The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh

written by: March 1, 2011
Release Date: February 22, 2011


The Low Anthem make albums that play like the soundtrack to those quirky coming-of-age indie flicks that capture its moments perfectly. Having self- released albums until now, the band already has a comfortable sense of self. They didn’t even need a label to get noticed in the first place, and now, having been signed with Nonesuch, The Low Anthem is poised to continue its rise. The result has given The Low Anthem’s riskiest album yet, and with some help from Mike Mogis and that new label, Smart Flesh is its strongest too.

The music found on Smart Flesh is not meant to depress, but inspire.

At face value the album is a slow burner carefully working through its jazz and folk inspirations, while mostly singing about loss and death. The album is full of sad songs and warm songs, all with an old school country aesthetic. Those folk and jazz elements work in just the right ways. Right there is what sets the band apart in the first place, and now a sound worth sticking to is revealed further.

It’s undoubtedly stunning, as the album runs the gamut of emotion. This is the follow-up of The Low Anthem’s breakthrough album, so the pressure is on to impress. As the band’s first record on Nonesuch, the two are certainly a match. By bringing in Mogis, he’s able to help tighten things up from the band’s jammier past. This tightening of the screws means The Low Anthem was able to expand on the indie folk sound from the usual, to the unexpected. This takes the band beyond the trend into its own niche, the album, becoming spectacular force by itself.

The styles found vary without getting too out there. The big rock track, “Boeing 737,” is subtly political as a post 9/11 tribute that reaches toward being an anthem with horns and big driving rhythms. But, that’s about as modern rock as things get. Remember, this is still The Low Anthem. From there, Bob Dylan-like storytelling comes out on “Apothecary Love” without overtly sounding like Dylan to make the point. More big references can be heard on “Burn,” a Leonard Cohen inspired open letter. The vocals taking on a strong Cohen like tone, rolling it into the melody, and in the storytelling. The organ and singing saw, while standing out as an oddly soothing pair, follow that same pace and keep it creative.

Those soothing elements take over the album, whether it is a clarinet or a muffled lost trumpet, as found on album opener “Ghost Woman Blues.” Later, the instrumental “Wire” uses clarinets and oboes for a soundtrack-esque jazz piece that’s absolutely breathtaking. Singing saws find there way in as well adding an eerie presence to the most depressing of the tracks. All these little details show how focused the record is at keeping the listener absorbed, and it works all too well.

What’s most refreshing is that the production is clean, but not overdone, so the tracks can be heard and savored. Details like the harmonies on “Love and Altar” that fall between somber guitar lines, or the weepy harmonicas on “Matter of Time” give that step forward for the band. Coupled with stronger over all writing, this album leaves listeners wanting more.

The Low Anthem Smart Flesh Tracklisting:

  1. “Ghost Woman Blues”
  2. “Apothecary Love”
  3. “Boeing 737”
  4. “Love and Altar”
  5. “Matter of Time”
  6. “Wire”
  7. “Burn”
  8. “Hey, All You Hippies!”
  9. “I’ll Take out Your Ashes”
  10. “Golden Cattle”
  11. “Smart Flesh”