There’s something truly magical about bringing more surrealistic elements of music back to folk. As rooted as this latest release by The Low Anthem is, it’s how the band tap into a sense of the unknown that really makes it stand out. Ambitious and full of intriguing ideas, the band capitalizes on its opportunities inconsistently, leaving parts of the record unsatisfying.
There’s a sporadic poetry throughout the album that’s immediately noticeable as it opens with “Bone Of Sailor, Bone of Bird,” giving a sort of refrain loop that immerses itself deeper and deeper into its instrumentation. Though there’s some serene beauty to the sound and language, the song really doesn’t go anywhere significant. “River Brine” however feels all enveloping immediately thanks to its subtle sound-work, crafting a feeling of place and emotion with a simple touch of noise. The piano hooks become utterly intoxicating and powerful releases of emotion as a result, bringing warmth to a dry and cold song.
“Give My Body Back” starts to ride this energy with an old-folk sense of direction that would make Jim Croce proud as it paints very visual landscapes of America. As the song indulges a kind of cyclical give and take from the world around us, you can feel the vocals grow richer and richer for it. The distant and cold synth sounds of “Drowsy Dowsing Dolls” gives an eerie feeling to what normally be welcoming and relaxed vocals. Though the song never quite shows the meaning behind this contrast, the mood remains just the same.
Rather than stay in its calm, and elevated reality, The Low Anthem start to enter more surrealistic sadness on “The Krill Whistle Their Fight Song” as a supernatural mix of electronics and life-filled chords rush through. “Toowee Toowee” seems to suggest a solemn meditation, as an alien-like cry warps throughout the song. As the vocals pull right into the mic amongst a ring of bells, there’s a sense of serenity that makes the unnerving sounds behind it seems friendly still.
Soon the almost sci-fi-like sounds overtake the laidback folk, creating an unexpected jazz and omen over “Coral Crescent” that suggests open up to the unknown. Though the song suggests a lack of fear and moving forward, there’s also a double-play of sounds that never reveal which is natural and which is digital. “Dotawav” flickers with a sense of electronic-organics that are slowly becoming one, as fiery rhythms and a sparkle of bright keyboards fades into primitive nothingness.
There’s so much wondrous writing in “Cy Twombly By Campfire” that will make you wonder how the band even stumbled upon these particular sonic ideas. Between the more abstract hooks that lash out in the song and the dense 80’s synth chords, the song brings out a indiscernible beauty that will leave you breathless. Feeding into their fantastical narrative, “Gondwanaland” brings its own mystical melodies to a simple folk song. The sound-work lifts a lot of the song, as the writing is often so tender it may not grab you.
“To Get Over Only One Side” unfortunately will be a much harder sell in the context of the record, as its lyrical and harmonic lifts come far too rarely and sporadically. Though there’s a deep sense of pain and searching in the song that is truly intriguing, The Low Anthem really bury the lead on this one. The blooming magic of “Final Transmission From The Diving Umbrella” closes the album with a barrage of mesmerizing sounds and themes. With so much melodic and sonic majesty flying throughout this wallop of a listen, it’s a shame the rest of the record is missing this same heft.
Words by Owen Maxwell