Music Reviews

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Low Anthem

Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

Nonesuch

Lemme tell ya, it was like watching those early, holy, tentative clips of The Band performing live — back when they all cohabited at Woodstock — but that was, admittedly, long, long, ago, even before my time. No, here it was on The David Letterman Show a couple weeks back, the same searching, pure vibe, but recast for 2010 in the form of three earnest young beardies, who look in varying degrees like Robbie Robertson and Howard Moon from The Mighty Boosh, and a young lady — each picking up unfamiliar and antiquated musical instruments to create a blissed-out, delicate, Spacemen-3-in-a-log-cabin vibe. It was “Charlie Darwin,” the first track from Low Anthem’s hot-trot debut, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin.

No fan of “Americana” am I, but Rhode Island’s Low Anthem has a certain ramshackle beauty, elegant and haunted vocal harmonies, and an amateurish sense of adventure (Rotating instrumental duties? Check! Does anyone know how to play this? Use it anyway!) that grabbed me from the very start. As did the fact that, after three whispered, skeletal parables (particularly “Ticket Taker,” a heartstring-tugging favorite), the album takes a drastic stylistic U-turn with “The Horizon Is a Beltway,” a boisterous, hard-driving barn burner better suited to Tom Waits or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It had me grinning from ear to ear at how well it worked. And they follow THAT up with “Home I’ll Never Be,” a whiskey-throated Skip James-style belter’n’bruiser. Then it’s straight back to the magnificent, heavenly harmonium-led lament “Cage the Songbird” — all organ wheeze, horn, percussion whoosh (Is that a rainstick?), and solemn group vocal turns. Now, if you can pull off a hat trick like that, and make it fucking work, like early Sebadoh did with all the screeching and screaming running headlong into quiet acoustic sobs, well, you’ve got something going there. That they do.

Music for people who want to play music. Now.

Low Anthem: www.lowanthem.com


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