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Low Anthem, The - Smart Flesh Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 9
Musicianship 9
Lyrics 8.5
Production 8.5
Creativity 9
Lasting Value 9.25
Reviewer Tilt 9
Final Verdict: 89%
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Low Anthem, The - Smart Flesh

Reviewed by: Matthew Tsai (02/17/11)
The Low AnthemSmart Flesh
Record Label: Nonesuch Records
Release Date: February 22nd, 2011

Some lines just shock you to attention, like this one from “Boeing 737:” “I was in the air when the towers came down, in a bar on the 84th floor.” It’s not that nobody’s sang about 9/11 before, but when it’s done with grief like it is here, with a Dylan sound-alike cawing the words and loud instruments pulsing in the background, it becomes something memorable, sublime and appropriately tragic. Welcome to The Low Anthem’s Smart Flesh, where folk music doesn’t need to be reinvented for it to come alive – just performed. If you’re looking for a solid folk spooker to open the year, your search ends here.

“Boeing 737” is powerful in its rowdiness, but the rest of the album rarely gets loud because The Low Anthem are even better at painting hushed Americana landscapes. Some of these are just classic, unadulterated folk strummers; “Ghost Woman Blues,” “Apothecary Love” and “Matter of Time” would easily fit in your run-of-the-mill western. But like on their last album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, the band is too diverse to settle on one style for the entire album. This time around, they’re more subtle, separating their soft folk side with an even softer personality: Spacey crooners that tip their hats to Bon Iver. “Love and Altar” is exceedingly beautiful the way its dual falsettos whisper over nothing but naked strums.

Ultimately, Smart Flesh is several cuts above its peers because it understands its limitations, but pushes the boundaries anyway. Ok, folk is supposed to be subdued, but what if we subdued it even further and cut out the vocals altogether (“Wire”)? What if we went beyond the standard instruments and threw in some clarinet (“Golden Cattle”)? What if we sandwiched a louder track between two skeletal ones (“Hey, All You Hippies!”)? The beauty of these questions is that The Low Anthem makes all the ideas work. “Wire” is breathtakingly forlorn, “Golden Cattle,” brooding and lovable thanks to the clarinet, “Hey, All You Hippies!,” an icy splash of noise after four straight tracks of mellow. It makes you wonder why more bands don’t experiment.

But like many of its peers, Smart Flesh thrives on ol’ Americana pathos. It’s mournful, it’s bitter, it’s creepy. I’m still injected with shivers every time the title track murmurs the word “flesh.” At the end of the day, that’s probably what you crave the most from a folk record – you want it to make you feel. The Low Anthem master the art of the “feel” here, and then add some creativity to make sure it doesn’t go stale. On paper, that’s a recipe for decency, but in sound, Smart Flesh is a dynamic triumph.

Recommended If You LikeBon Iver, Fleet Foxes, quiet (but occasionally loud) and dark folk
Track list1. 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
 
Displaying posts 1 - 14 of 14
04:35 AM on 02/18/11
#2
CheckeredFloors
nah
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You're fast becoming my favourite reviewer.
07:48 AM on 02/18/11
#3
Blake Solomon
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You're fast becoming my favourite reviewer.
agreed. i actually read this whole review, something i rarely do on any site.
08:21 AM on 02/18/11
#4
dead.end.friend
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Great review, I need to give this one a listen soon.
09:31 AM on 02/18/11
#5
topher465
every shining time you arrive
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Heading to see them at the end of the month.
10:46 AM on 02/18/11
#6
Matthew Tsai
Born and raised
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You're fast becoming my favourite reviewer.

agreed. i actually read this whole review, something i rarely do on any site.

Appreciate the compliment guys. <3
11:32 AM on 02/18/11
#7
Argentine
When I die, rap dies; Destiny Bond.
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I'm really excited to pick this up after reading this review.
11:46 AM on 02/18/11
#8
FortheLP
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I'm really excited to pick this up after reading this review.
Likewise. Great review Matt!
02:23 PM on 02/18/11
#9
Holly HoX!
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That RIYL section gets me going. I'll have to check this out.
02:00 PM on 02/19/11
owiseone35
You need human heat
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It's streaming on NPR just in case people are on the fence of rather to buy it or not. Personally, I think it's alright. http://www.npr.org/2011/02/14/133620...em-smart-flesh hasn't really hit me all that hard yet.
01:12 PM on 02/20/11
yayitsjoe
An American Workplace.
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i have to review this for my radio station, and i really had no motivation to listen to it. but this review gave me the motivation to listen, and it's great so far. fantastic review.
04:27 PM on 02/20/11
Matthew Tsai
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i have to review this for my radio station, and i really had no motivation to listen to it. but this review gave me the motivation to listen, and it's great so far. fantastic review.
Glad it does that for you! I know where you're coming from. Folk is kind of like that sometimes, it doesn't really click immediately.
04:40 PM on 02/20/11
yayitsjoe
An American Workplace.
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Glad it does that for you! I know where you're coming from. Folk is kind of like that sometimes, it doesn't really click immediately.
yeah. i've never really listened to folk, but it's required at our radio station to do a review once a week, so i get to hear all different assortments of music that i usually don't listen to. thanks again for a great review!
06:27 AM on 02/22/11
Gregory Robson
Under Rug Swept
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Love you for reviewing this. Should be in the 90s.
Easily one of the best bands creating music currently, and have been for the past 4-5 years. Cheers!
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