The Low Anthem have realised that people are tired of shouting at each other. Sometimes you have to struggle to hear a quiet voice. You have to really listen. Sometimes, it’s worth the effort
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The Low Anthem have always been adventurous souls. The band that made the country/folk flavoured “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin” seems a long way in the distance now, as the band, formed in Rhode Island in 2006, have moved to an almost abstract, ambient sound, built on 2016’s “Eyeland” album. If you’re looking for verse chorus verse, then you need to look elsewhere.
“The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depths of the Sea” is a short and delicious, 31 minutes long. None of the twelve songs stick around long enough to outstay their welcome and a few of them vanish almost as soon as they’ve started. All the songs have a real charm and the idiosyncratic choice of instrumentation and subject matter only adds to that. Songs seem to stop in mid flow or start abruptly, as if the attention span of the musicians has been so truncated that they’ve dispensed with any kind of decoration or padding. Not a bad idea.
When the awards for the “Most Head Scratching Song Titles of the Year” awards are given out, “The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depths of the Sea” is a dead cert for the lot. “The Krill Whistle Their Fight Song”, “Dotwav” and “Cy Twombly by Campfire” are the front-runners here. “The Krill…” consists of a rudimentary drum rhythm and a vocal which one could struggle to call “low key”. Processed sounds and a simple chord progression combine to make a lovely, if brief, piece of music. “Dotwav” is slightly less successful and sounds a little bit like a piece of New Age meditation music you could have bought in a Head Shop sometime in the eighties, but “Cy Twombly…” is a gem. At times, the song borders on Hip-Hop, but the almost whispered vocal and lightness of touch take it somewhere else
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This album probably wasn’t recorded with live performance in mind, as recreating the atmosphere of some of these pieces would be almost impossible. Instead we get a dozen snapshots, each one different but bound to the next song by a mood, rather than a prescribed band set up. There are almost echoes of Brian Wilson’s doomed “Smile” project here – songs sometimes no longer than fragments. The band’s methods become a lot clearer when you realise that John Cage was one of the significant influences on the recording. The album takes its title from a part of Kay Larsen’s biography of Cage, “Where the Heart Beats”, but it also utilises some of Cage’s methodology, too. A minimal, “less is more” approach ensures that every detail and every nuance of performance are at the forefront of all the songs on “The Salt Doll…” Add to that, the fact that Jeff Prystowsky from the band was recovering from a concussion from an accident which occurred while the band was on tour, means that most of the music here hardly rises above a hushed whisper. This may have been intended or possibly their hand was forced due to Prystowsky’s condition, but either way, the results are striking.
The Low Anthem have realised that people are tired of shouting at each other. Sometimes you have to struggle to hear a quiet voice. You have to really listen. Sometimes, it’s worth the effort.
“The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea” is available now via Joyful Noise. The track listing is as follows…
Bone of Sailor, Bone of Bird
Give My Body Back
Drowsy, Dowsing Dolls
Cy Twombly by Campfire
To Get Over Only One Side
Final Transmission From the Diving Umbrella