The Low Anthem’s sophomore effort, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin was an intriguing blend of some of the softest, most beautifully arranged vocal folk music, and all-out brawling country rock. The album catered to two very different moods, but was at times jarring with its tendency to suddenly change tone; it remained though, one of the pleasant surprises of 2009.
Smart Flesh sees the band tread familiar terrain in terms of mood and delivery, but the album feels far more contained and the brasher numbers sit next to the calmer pieces, which are as beautifully sparse as ever, far more comfortably.
There is plenty here for fans of …Charlie Darwin to enjoy, the album as a whole in fact feels like a natural and progressive third chapter for the band, even if only to act as beautiful and predictable closure. There are however, a couple of adventurous departures that serve the album fantastically; ‘Wire’ is a gorgeous and sombre, perfectly composed woodwind piece that somehow works brilliantly as a footnote to previous track, ‘Matter of Time’, the album’s leading single.
The Low Anthem’s splendid and varied use of instruments again plays a big part in the longevity of this reassuringly simple album. The songs may themselves throw no curveballs, but when each member seems to find no issue with lending their talents to several instruments, they are delivered with a surprising level of individuality. And although their days of mobile phone feedback may be behind them, the soaring and angelic tones of bowed musical bells for example, expresses a mature and realised need for experimentation that far outweighs the beauty of many acts’ desire to suddenly spring an electronic album upon their listeners.
It doesn’t hurt also that The Low Anthem possesses three very individual and confident singers. It is Ben Knox Miller’s poignant voice that leads the fray, with his nasally blend of Bob Dylan’s lower register and the melodic turns of Van Morrison, but each member’s voice van be heard amongst their typically ambitious vocal harmonies.
Smart Flesh is a lovely and excellently conceived third album and although fans may recognise the occasional repeated melody from earlier albums, and a familiarity that may leave some feeling slightly unnourished, few could argue that this is anything but beautiful.
Originally written for The 405.