Charles Darwin hasn’t taken this much abuse since the days of William Jennings Bryan. But while creationists fight the theory of evolution in schools, this Rhode Island band attacks the societal applications of “survival of the fittest.”
“And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin,” Ben Knox Miller laments in a lovely, layered falsetto, “The lords of war just profit from decay.”
If The Low Anthem’s argument is for community and collaboration, Exhibit A is the gorgeous chamber folk this trio of multi-instrumentalists has crafted on its third album. Following the path cleared by Nick Drake and Tim Buckley, and now well trod by folks like Sufjan Stevens and Sam Beam, The Low Anthem is at its best composing songs fit for a hipster orchestra, with Knox’s delicate vocals backed by an assortment of quirky instrumentation.
After two tracks of quiet intimacy, the band erupts into a pair of foot-stompers, grounding an album that otherwise might get blown away by the slightest breeze. Jack Kerouac-by-way-of-Tom Waits tune “The Horizon is a Beltway” and the roadhouse rumpus “Home I’ll Never Be” wouldn’t sound out of place on an Avett Brothers’ record, and they balance the quieter tracks.
Whether soft or loud, these 12 songs are exquisite. The band says it labored over every instrumental addition, testing and discarding dozens of combinations. Maybe The Low Anthem should go easy on Charlie after all. It sounds like only the best version of each song survived.