Ben Knox Miller
From its hand silkscreened cover art to its meticulously crafted songs, The Low Anthem offers work meant to be held, savored, contemplated, and occasionally stomped along to. The Providence, RI, trio’s Nonesuch debut offers a distinctly human touch in an era of instant uploading and ephemeral expression. The mood of Oh My God, Charlie Darwin is melancholic from the start—quiet, intimate, full of longing, and often hauntingly beautiful. In its lyrics, a dog-eat-dog society is nearing collapse and relationships are bruised, broken, or irretrievably lost. Yet in their tenor there is a pencil shaving of hope.
On stage and in its recordings, the trio uses a variety of unusual instrumentation—by its own count, the band mates took turns playing 27 different instruments on Oh My God—that gives its songs, at times, an otherworldly quality. For example, Miller and Prystowsky refurbished a World War I pump organ that had been dragged by chaplains into the battlefield and is now part of The Low Anthem’s arsenal of instruments. Adams plays the crotales, a rack of bronze, cymbal-like discs often used with mallets as a percussion instrument. Adams, however, wields a bow to elicit feedback-like sounds. Some critics have called The Low Anthem’s sound Americana, but what the group has really done is to conjure a varied and elusive sound of its own.
To record Oh My God, The Low Anthem retreated from urban civilization into a space of its own. As it says in the album credits, the trio cut these tracks “in the solace of a Block Island winter.” On New Years Day 2008, the trio, several like-minded musician friends, and producer-engineer Jesse Lauter packed their equipment and set out on a ferry for a shuttered Block Island home, 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. Says Miller, “It felt very fitting to do this record on an abandoned island. It’s smaller than Manhattan, and in the winter there are probably 800 year-round residents. It’s all grays and browns then, not much color. It’s very beautiful. A good place to get in the right spirit for making these songs. It was the first time we ever worked with a producer, so it was a great load off our backs not to be engineering and over-thinking every detail.” This was The Low Anthem’s second disc; the band had made the first one, the self-released What the Crow Brings, over nine months of sessions in the Providence apartments of Miller and Prystowsky.
The word-of-mouth success of 2007’s What the Crow Brings (the first 600 copies of which were packaged by painting over cereal boxes culled from dumpsters and trash bins) gave The Low Anthem a foothold in venues in Providence and nearby Cambridge, MA. The local press touted the group, and it did steady mail-order business via its website, making post-office runs to send out CDs in each city it would visit. The band also booked and promoted all of its own shows, bringing the same focus that distinguished its recording sessions to growing and honing its live work.
WWI portable pump organ, harmonium, '63 Gibson B15, gut-strung parlor axe, AJ & HH 29" thunder drum ,nipple gong,
2 or 3 clarinets, really big fiddle, E flat marching horn, sizzling set of crotales, electricity aided guitar, rusty saw, accordian, 1 or 2 fiddles and
enough harmonicas to summon a swarm of locusts
* The Low Anthem (2006)
* What The Crow Brings (2007)
* Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (2008)
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new songs that come from old songs. vibe. providence, RI. typewriters. folk art. corn-dogs. mini-van. gospel influence. wood bats. old-time headwear. not jaded: music that is music. not an advertisement. word of mouth. drink of mouth. bourbon...
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