The power of music is hard to quantify. How many of us are constantly on the lookout for something revelatory, something distinctive, something special? No matter how many favourite records you have, it’s a reassuring delight to think that there will be further additions to that list for as long as you keep on exploring. Sometimes they ride in on the crest of a wave of media hype, often they just appear quietly, without fanfare, and ransack your ears. For a lucky group of listeners, 2009′s ‘Oh My God Charlie Darwin‘ was one such record and its capacity to wow remains undiminished. Picked up by the remarkably consistent Bella Union, after being self-released in small numbers in 2008, The Low Anthem‘s third album became beloved of discerning listeners and bearded music monthlies alike. This time around, there is a sense of anticipation surrounding a new release by the band and ‘Smart Flesh’ has a lot to live up to.
Largely favouring plaintive, spacious vintage folk, proceedings are occasionally interrupted by Waitsian, muddied, junkyard rock and roll. While the more raucous moments are few and far between, the hypnotic qualities of the slower material are more than enough for this band to merit a place in your collection. Much of the album was recorded in a disused pasta sauce factory with microphones dotted across the floor space and the sound of ‘Smart Flesh’ is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Listen carefully to ‘Golden Cattle’ and it’s quite clear that lead vocalist Ben Knox Miller’s affecting performance is being picked up from afar; emptiness never sounded so good. ‘Love And Altar’ has a similarly airy feel, the attention to detail in creating this distinctive, raw sound utterly staggering. Miller sounds as if his vocal is being left somewhere in the past, the other voices in the band harmonising beautifully around him. It’s impressive through speakers but a listen via headphones left me more than a little choked up. Read the rest of this entry »