The Low Anthem’s Oceanic Masterpiece

Posted by Greg on Mar 8, 2018 in Uncategorized |

Often times when bands add machinated and synthetic elements, they do so in a way that distorts their arc, their method and their craft. The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The Sea, the fourth album from Rhode Island folk collective The Low Anthem is an example of how that very thing does not happen. Yes, the album is chock full of electronic flourishes. Blips and bleeps permeate much of the album, but from start to finish, this album is distinctly Low Anthem and easily their best album to date. Quite frankly, this is one of the best albums this site has ever reviewed.

Drawing on a heavily nautical theme, the album opens with “Bone of Sailor, Bone of Bird,” a hushed and muted jaunt with light piano, a twinkling of electronics and those ever-engaging vocals. Arguably one of their strongest songs to date, it is one of just many that linger long after the final second. Those most familiar with The Low Anthem for their DIY indie folk might find some comfort in the winsome “River Brine,” buttressed by lilting piano and plaintive vocals, it’s a welcome return to form and another solid effort on a disc that has few if any missteps.

The yearning “Give My Body Back” has a timeless and distinctly 70s feel, drawing much on the work of Simon and Garfunkel for a song that needs to be heard to be fully realized. The album’s first half closes with the two most synthetic compositions. “Drowsy Dowsing Dolls” is atmospheric, celestial and nocturnal, while “The Krill Whistle Their Fight Song” feels like something that might be found in an EDM bargain bin. The song is anchored by the line “Wisdom is your deadly weapon,” an ominous word for an album that dips towards the ominous in waves. Side A of The Salt Doll concludes with the gorgeous “Toowee Toowee,” a lush, layered and wistful affair that has a hopefulness much needed after “The Krill Whistle.”

The melancholy veneer of Side A returns in the hushed and introspective “Coral Crescent” which rests on the shoulders of a somber trumpet to do much of the heavy lifting. “Dotwav” is an instrumental interlude that rides a wave of gentle and soothing atmospherics. The prominent electronic touch from “The Krill Whistle” returns in “Cy Twombly By Campfire,” the album’s most urban effort and arguably the band’s most daring. Built on woozy and wobbly vocals, the song has a hazy and languid vibe, not unlike an afternoon on the Block Island Sound. A sonorous trumpet returns and the entire thing is so blissful, so halcyon and so ripe. Who knew a song about an American sculptor could be so deeply moving?

Anyone who is familiar with The Low Anthem knows that the band has never shied away from contemplative and meditative folks songs and that’s exactly what is presented in “Gondwanaland,” easily one of the most gorgeous songs on the albums and arguably their most striking to date. For their entire career, The Low Anthem have been exceptional at arrangements but nowhere is that more prominently felt than on the sweeping vigor that is at work here. There might be many songs on The Salt Doll that deserve playlist rotations, but of the dozen none deserve it more than “Gondwanaland.”

Not content to let their best work slide past them, the hypnotic “To Get Over Only One Side” is ageless in its movements and transcendent for its emotional heft. From the opening strains of “Bone of Sailor” it was evident the band was locked in but on “To Get Over Only One Side” that sense of cohesion is downright masterful in its execution. Fittingly, the disc ends with “Final Transmision From the Diving Umbrella” a machinated and dramatic song that has the pulse of an art-house thriller and has a cadence that feels almost orchestral. When the song and album finally reach their final rest, the urge to go back and listen to it again is almost too much to bear.

The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The Sea in many ways feels very much like the album The Low Anthem were destined to write. Every nuance, every utterance, every inspired word feels like destiny. Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky have written and composed an album they can hang their hat on for decades to come. Though they’ve had a career paved with many peaks and valleys, they have emerged from the other side of it with a refined and clear focus and the results are nothing short of stunning. Fans of Sufjan Stevens and Grizzly Bear will find lots to like here. If there’s a better album released this year, this site has yet to hear it.

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