the low anthem smart flesh
  • WEDNESDAY, MARCH 02, 2011

  • Posted by: Matt Howard

The Low Anthem, our friends from Providence, Rhode Island, wooed indie-folk fans with their New England pastoral aesthetics. Artists like Sam Beam had previously revitalized the rustic sound causing an unconscious association between the folk genre and Southern, country life. The Low Anthem's second album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, augmented our folk palettes, as it provided a new found appreciation for the land of autumn leaves. While I'm often scorned by the statement, "Labels are for soup cans," it's difficult to avoid recognizing The Low Anthem as the archetype of indie folk. The quartet's output includes attributions from such a wide array of emblematic, folk instruments often disguising them as a complete orchestra. Additionally, the band self-released their two, earliest albums, dumpster diving to collect materials needed to produce album sleeves. Although they are now members of Nonesuch Records, The Low Anthem's latest album, Smart Flesh, embodies the self-assembled grit of passionate music making.

Listening to Smart Flesh will invoke countless allusions of other artists. The gentle drawl of Ben Knox Miller's vocals in "Apothecary Love" summons reminiscence of Waylon Jennings (don't knock it 'til you try it, Waylon's great). Their echoing strings and organs, in "Burn", transcend other, contemporary attempts of capturing the tones of Americana. There is a sense of ambiguity in this period piece. Rather than being forced to apply the album to a particular era or region, listeners experience a journey through folk's history.

Within the midst of Smart Flesh's whimsical hymnals, The Low Anthem creates contrast in songs, "Hey, All You Hippies" and "Boeing 737". The intoxicating sing-along, "Hey, All You Hippies", abandons the placid tones. A powerful ballad with force comparable to Bob Dylan's upbeat poetic protests, its pace grows towards an electrifying chorus. "Boeing 737", similarly speedy in tempo, is guided by horns and the entrancing howls of Miller making it redolent of Neutral Milk Hotel.

Atop the upbeat, instrumental backdrop of "Boeing 737" are powerful lyrics. The song makes references to the state of American society following September 11 (airplane on the album cover). The song contains the chorus, "Hey little bird/Will you be the one/To nest beneath my Gatling gun." Smart Flesh's closing track, appropriately titled, "Smart Flesh", is metaphorically hoarded (not malevolent, like those cat people). It's incredibly similar to Iron and Wine's "The Trapeze Swinger". Another song for the crazed indie fans to obsessively study. The song mentions a "high-wire man", which could be a direct reference to Beam's ballad (assumptions already lurking).

The Low Anthem's Smart Flesh is simply an extraordinary album. While harsh fluctuations in pace are often burdening, the album's surprising moments of uplift exemplify the group's ability to rupture the preconceived borders of folk music's progression.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
The Low Anthem Live at the Bell House
Guest Apartment: The Low Anthem
Artist Interview: The Low Anthem
The Low Anthem on Myspace

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