Remember when bands made records? Not ten-song collections of iTunes downloads, but complete, thematic bodies of work meant to be analyzed and appreciated as such? It is worth noting that, while the “single” as a concept has been around since long before Steve Jobs revolutionized portable and digital music, many of the most enduring songs of the last half-century were elements of larger artistic statements (“Like a Rolling Stone,” “London Calling,” and “Purple Rain,” to name a few).
With Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, The Low Anthem have crafted a collection of sparse, dynamic songs which, lo and behold compliment one another sonically and thematically. Imagine that. OMGCD deals, in large part, with the terrifying spectre of the American cultural landscape, where prayers are cast into the stratosphere via text message and photographs are “processed,” not developed. At its core, OMGCD is a collection of hymns sung to Dylan, Jack Kerouac and Woody Guthrie, to a country plowed under and built over. As stark as that image may be, The Low Anthem delivers these twelve songs beautifully, the tension palpable but not overwhelming, the fear and anger brimming but not boiling over.
OMGCD was initially released in 2008 as a limited-edition, hand-painted CD and subsequently released when The Low Anthem – Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky and Jocie Miller, the three of whom met while students at Brown – signed with Nonesuch. The re-release garnered The Low Anthem glowing reviews from Uncut, Rolling Stone and a number of other publications, and recognition from Bruce Springsteen and Ray Lamontagne. That’s all fine and good – who doesn’t enjoy the occasional accolade – but the fact is The Low Anthem were going to get recognized at some point. Songs this good will always have an audience.
In the interest of full disclosure, it’s worth mentioning that I just spent a week on tour in support of The Low Anthem, but that run of shows only served to support my opinion that somebody – or, rather, many people – ought to be championing this band. As good as OMGCD is – and make no mistake, it is a very, very good album – the songs are so vital when performed, they take on an almost primal quality. There’s a gravity there that isn’t nearly as evident on the record. Likewise, Miller’s vocals are at once searing and tender live, while the treatment of vocals on the album borrows slightly from Iron and Wine, treading the line between atmospheric and over-processed. The discrepancy between performances on the album and in a live setting is not great – great musicians tend to sound good in any format – but it’s enough that in order to really appreciate The Low Anthem, you’ve got to see the show. Think of the performance as a companion piece to the album, or vice versa.
Some recommendations come with a caveat, “before you pick up this record, you should know…” This is not one. The Low Anthem is a band you need to hear.