written by Chris Familton
In 2009 The Low Anthem introduced themselves to the world with their 2nd album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. With high profile championing from the likes of NPR and Mojo Magazine they quickly became part of the post-Bon Iver/Fleet Foxes world with their rustic americana and harmony-rich folk. Smart Flesh takes that burgeoning potential and blows it wide open with a sound that is both vast and intimate.
Recorded in a disused pasta factory during a freezing Rhode Island winter the album’s tone is set with Ghost Woman Blues, a death-parched tune with voices soaked in reverb and strong emotional pull. Jocie Adams’ clarinet is magnificent with its sonorous tone perfectly suiting the mood and subject matter. Later she expands that instrument’s palette with the layered and quasi-classical Wires, complete with intakes of breath between the warm, droning notes.
From that magical start there is a real sense that a special album is unfolding and song by song The Low Anthem draw you further into their world of pump organs, musical saws, death, love and colourful characters. Ben Knox Miller skillfully navigates his voice somewhere in the vicinity of Cohen, the pinched, nasal Dylan and the vulnerability of Vic Chesnutt and his way with a lyric delivers some smile inducing moments such as ‘first she shot me with whisky, then she chased me with gin’ on Apothecary.
The sparseness of songs like Burn and I’ll Take Out Your Ashes is what makes Smart Flesh so rewarding. The words are allowed to come to the fore and the simplest of melodies and rhythms speak volumes of the importance of space in music. The Low Anthem have created a dusty Waits-like world that is high on authenticity making this a very special album for fans of dark, organic folk music.
this review first appeared as Album Of The Week in Drum Media