The Low Anthem
“I don’t even know if they know that what they are doing is brave.” — Emmylou Harris
If forced to explain what this record sounds like, you could say it’s the aural equivalent of the Polish brothers’ 2003 film Northfork. There one finds an ark in the desolate plains of Montana, shortly before the town is to be flooded. And just as that masterpiece is framed by the gorgeous remoteness and surreal otherworldly location, Smart Flesh is a creation of its space, in this case, an abandoned pasta factory in Rhode Island. Sounds travel to ceilings high above heads, return off long rows of windows, and greet the singer again, wrapping the entire record in a blanket of echoes and memories.
The third album from The Low Anthem, coming on the heels of 2009’s Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, continues to draw from Americana roots, but closer to a turn-of-the-century string band than country. Although “Apothecary Love” is as good as the genre gets while sounding nothing remotely like anything else, the entire record has a Basement Tapes feel, in that over 100 instruments were used, only a few electric. Autoharp and accordion, strummed banjo, and garage rock guitar bump up against church organ and harmonica, with the pasta factory becoming the final instrument in each moment, creating an engulfing, yet somehow sparse atmosphere.
There is really no other band like The Low Anthem. They exist in a place of their own, in a time that seems to hearken back to the faded pictures one encounters of early 20th century America, brought to life. Into the sea of sound they weave lines like this, from “I’ll Take Out Your Ashes”:
“I know you’ve been counting on me/ Ever since your sad cremation day/ I combed your Alzheimer’s poetry/ For all that I wished for it to say”
This in a song that sounds like a missed track on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music with a plaintive lone banjo echoing in a big room. This is a record of pairings, some organic, some experimental, that creates something so unique, it has the ability to grow with time. You hear things differently each listen, and really, no greater compliment can be paid to a creation, for that implies a dialogue between you and the art. There will be no better record this year than Smart Flesh, if only because it doesn’t exist in a place that offers itself to comparison. It exists on the plains of Northfork or in a drafty noodle plant. Or in your mind.
The Low Anthem: www.lowanthem.com