The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh

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The Low Anthem
Smart Flesh
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The Low Anthem that presented their debut Oh My God, Charlie Darwin charmed listeners with a hodge-podge variety of styles; from the haunting, falsetto-filled opener to the light-hearted choral refrains, the album created quite a stir and raised expectations for their next release. Fortunately, Smart Flesh takes a step in the right direction; in this second release, The Low Anthem finds a style they are most comfortable in, delivering chilling dirges and ghostly ballads that both cut to the marrow and inspire the soul.

The folk-rock group camped in an abandoned pasta-sauce factory near Providence to record this album, and the result is a warm, reverb-rich collection of songs. The tracks range from introspective hymns like “Matter of Time” to explosive ballads like “Boeing 737”. The diversity is on another dimension; the multi-talented band members showcase several different instruments, from the singing saw to the jaw harp to three pump organs that all serve to add emotion and life to the album. The organ, for example, carries the listener from the brooding, down-tempo “Burn” into the full-fledged “Hey, All You Hippies!”

Vocally, a hushed whisper could transform into a lispy croon with little warning. Schematically, it’s the same. Some songs whisper of regret and guilt (“It’s a sad and guilty feeling since I did not take out your ashes/whatever I was fearing never came to passing”), while others are confident cries (“Hey little bird, will you be the one/To nest underneath my Gatling gun?). In the middle, the instrumental “Wire”, with high pitched whines and hums, is a peaceful break in the album. Overall, however, the group creates a record that carries a soft and mellow perspective, with similarities ranging anywhere from Bob Dylan to The Arcade Fire.

Most importantly, this album is one that grows with repeated listens. It might be considered a boring, lifeless album after a first listen, but The Low Anthem have boldly returned to folk roots with no desire to create buzz for no reason. The hushed lulls and melodies mesh to create a sincere and humble feel, and are consistent from start to finish. In an industry where flashy intros, catchy hooks, and soaring vocals capture hearts, Smart Flesh hits most with a sort of alienating culture shock. The bittersweet-ness and minimalist structure take shelter here amidst an eclectic lyrical style, with subjects including machines, planes, cremation, formaldehyde, Ronald Reagan, and some intelligent skin.

As good as this blend of blues and folk rock is, the inevitable snag is that this is not an easy album to listen to. While one isn’t expecting feel-good, poppy music from The Low Anthem, the blissfully melancholy is so well captured by the band that it makes this album a rough journey. Even so, it is worth it. The various timbres and tones work in unusual harmony to present an album that, with time, transforms the listener. Smart Flesh, with its shining grace, is a worthy contender for folk album of the year, and is worth spending quality time with.

1. Ghost Woman Blues
2. Apothecary Love
3. Boeing 737
4. Love and Altar
5. Matter of Time
6. Wire
7. Burn
8. Hey, All You Hippies!
9. I'll Take Out Your Ashes
10. Golden Cattle
11. Smart Flesh

The Low Anthem are a folk quartet (up until recently, a trio) from Providence, Rhode Island, United States. They formed in 2003 and consist of multi-instrumentalists Ben Miller, Jeff Prystowsky, Jocie Adams and Mat Davidson.

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