The Low Anthem – [Album]

The Low Anthem – [Album]

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Low Anthem
(Washington Square/Razor+Tie/Concord)
To say that the last ten years have been busy ones for The Low Anthem would only betray a gift for understatement in the one who said it. In that time, the band has bounced between no fewer than three record labels in addition to releasing a couple of albums on their own. They’ve been toasted as great additions to the “new folk” and “Americana” fads, only to abandon them as quickly as the praise has been formally issued. They’ve been (as any number of daycare professionals would claim, if they saw similar habits in a kid) busy – and they’ve leapt onto some brand new terrain again on their fifth full-length (first for Washington Square), Eyeland.

Eyeland marks the single greatest stylistic leap of the band’s career to date because, this time, the band has checked every semblance of folk in them at the door and wholeheartedly embraced a new, more hallucinogenic quality. The technicolor change is apparent immediately; as “In Eyeland” opens the proceedings, listeners will find they need to actively keep their heads from spinning as they observe a panoramic expanse of sound develop, and not gasp as singer Ben Knox Miller breathlessly welcomes them with a gentle vocal melody and Bryan Minto, Andy Davis and Florence Wallis (multi-instrumentalists, all) erect a vibrant and abstract soundscape behind him. This seems, of course, about at far from the folky, wooden beginnings from which the band sprang as it’s possible to get; on first listen, everyone will recognize that – like Flaming Lips before them – The Low Anthem appear to have downed the Kool Aid and leapt off the map to creative freedom. It’s a truly unnerving, exciting moment to witness.

…And at no point does The Low Anthem look back as Eyeland continues. For “Her Little Cosmos,” Miller is joined by Wallis on the mic for a stirring, soulful and romantic duet which sounds like it might have been recorded on a space station they dare with “The Pepsi Moon,” but even that doesn’t actually come close to feeling like the Low Anthem of old. Rather, even when the band does get a little more “wooden of sound,” there’s a sterility about the production which makes the ‘folk air’ feel put on – as though it were fabricated in a laboratory; while some listeners may be infuriated by this turn, the tease about it and how it is presented is pretty captivating.

While The Low Anthem does revisit the ‘sterile folk’ idea of “The Pepsi Moon” on “The Air Hockey Fire,” far better turns manifest when the band gets a little more raucous and rockist in tracks like “Ozzie” (which flies really well in spite of the muted production of it dropping the ball) and “Am I The Dream or Am I The Dreamer” (which also suffers from being under-produced, but plays well thanks to the rolling bassline supplied). Those songs clearly present a tremendous amount of potential and energy – the problem is that there’s still not enough of them to buoy the album along; dozey numbers like “Waved The Neon Seaweed,” “wzgddrmtnwrdz” and ‘The Circular Ruins In Euphio” all just sort of arrive as color, textured self-indulgence and don’t really go anywhere – but they take their time doing it.

On first listen, Eyeland will have those who go through it front-to-back feeling a little cheated. There are some great moments in its runing, but there are an equal-or-greater number of snoozers. Upon second play through, some listeners will find that the textural beauty of some of the songs pulls them into a Flaming Lips kind of place which can be enjoyable – but the laden pace at which the album moves can really test listeners patience, at the same time. So does anything about it really hold up? Suffice it to say that any success that Eyeland enjoys depends on how hard a listener is willing to work to enjoy it. [BILL ADAMS]


Eyeland is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.

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