The Low Anthem celebrate release of new album

BMS talks with frontman Ben Knox about the band's new album and Boston show

, Staff Writer

It’s been a steady upward climb for The Low Anthem over the past few years. The Providence quartet, who rose to the national stage with 2009’s widely-acclaimed Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, is back in the spotlight with the recent release their third studio album, Smart Flesh. The band will celebrate the release with a sold-out show at the Old South Church in Boston tonight.

Widely known throughout New England, the band’s rise on the national stage has been a joy to watch and was widely visible at last summer’s Newport Folk Festival. The band, whose members had once been worked at prior editions of the festival to help pickup trash around Fort Adams State Park, rocked the main stage to an adoring crowd in 2010.

“To stand on stage with Levon Helm,” Ben Knox Miller tells Boston Music Spotlight, “was a bit mind bending.” The festival stands in a unique place on the musical spectrum. More than any other festival, and this is perhaps because folk musicians have always shown especial gratitude towards their predecessors, Newport represents a perfect blending of the old and new.

“Newport Folk is important because it connects the thread,” Knox explains. “[It’s] a major artery that helps keep new music from spiraling into self-referential, house-of-mirrors, style-before-content irrelevance.”

The Low Anthem perfectly exemplify this melding of tradition and innovation. Smart Flesh is filled with traditional folk sensibilities, especially in tunes like “Apothecary Love”, with its Cash-Carter vocal harmonies, oozing slide guitar, and lazy guitar swing. “Boeing 737”, on the other hand, is the virtual opposite as The Low Anthem elicit Arcade Fire with soaring brass, huge guitars and crashing cymbals. Knox describes the song as “one extreme of the sonic experiment…taken to the full extreme. The room shook. Paint snowed down on us from the ceiling. Jeff [Prystowsky] had never hit the drums so hard.”

The rest of Smart Flesh, for the most part, embraces the band’s “chamber” side. There’s much more “space” than there was in Charlie Darwin. “The arrangements on this album sit back in the speakers a bit more,” says Knox. “It’s a more introverted world, whereas Charlie Darwin stood forward. Sat in front… These mixes are more liquid, languid, inviting, but distant. I prefer the production on Smart Flesh by a long shot, and think that, in the end, the songs found a decent home in the murk of that sound world.”

Smart Flesh, which was recorded in an old abandoned pasta sauce factory space in Rhode Island, is the sound of a band exploring their oeuvre and expanding on the most successful facets of their previous work. It’s a maturation of what Charlie Darwin started, with richer harmonies, deeper production, and more detailed arrangements. The all-instrumental “Wire”, which was composed by clarinet player Jocie Adams, is a tight net of impressionistic harmonies, and a far stronger piece than its Charlie Darwin analogue, “Music Box”.

The album begs to be heard in a venue like the Old South Church, which is going to drench the Low Anthem’s music in layers of reverb. “You have to play more sparsely when you’re in a chamber of decay,” Knox explains. “Sonic day, that is. Reverb. It’s tough for the sound engineer, but we have an incredible [one] on the tour.”

Knox further clarifies that the band deliberately picked the venue to perform in. “We like to throw sound into a room like that, certainly”, he says before adding, “also the guilt and torment coded in the architecture of a dramatic church like Old South color a show in an interesting way. A lot of the gigs are at traditional bars and clubs, though…the preference is to continue to mix it up.”

And keeping it interesting is just what The Low Anthem thrives at. Whether its the hallowed ground of an old church in Boston or a fort in Newport, New Englanders can always count on the band delivering an organic and thoroughly entertaining set.

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