CD Review: The Low Anthem — Oh My God, Charlie Darwin; Playing with Blind Pilot at The EARL November 4
By Al Kaufman
The Low Anthem recorded Oh My God, Charlie Darwin in a log cabin in the middle of a harsh Rhode Island winter. And while it is bleak at times, it is also riveting, loud, and, best of all, never boring. In fact, it is downright brilliant.
Ben Knox Miller's falsetto is featured in the opener, "Charlie Darwin," a gorgeous chamber-sounding song that chills through the skin. The following "To Ohio" is a lovely hushed ballad, while "Ticket Taker" recalls the folk poetry of an early Leonard Cohen. "I am a ticket taker/Many tickets have I torn/And I will be your ark/We will float above the storm." The main character in the song is even named Marianne.
After being lulled into such a peaceful place, the CD takes a sharp left turn into "The Horizon Is a Beltway," a rousing barroom rocker that Tom Waits at his most percussive would have been happy to write. It segues seamlessly into "Home I'll Never Be," written by Waits, with lyrics by Jack Kerouac.
In just those first five songs, Miller demonstrates that there is absolutely nothing he can't do with that voice. From operatic to guttural growl, with some sexy whispers for good measure, he reaches deep into each song and yanks out its soul.
The CD then returns to the band's intricate and seductive mellow tones. That is until they crash through "Champion Angel," a straight-ahead rock and roll song in the vein of The Hold Steady. It's all magical stuff that keeps the listener guessing and listening after repeated plays.
Low Anthem consists of poet, painter, and folk-rocker Miller, jazz-trained bassist Jeffrey Prystowsky, and classically-trained composer, multi-instrumentalist, and NASA technician Jocie Adams. The Brown University grads are a heady, eclectic bunch that could have easily become too pretentious for their own good. Instead, they have created one of the most ambitious and greatest albums of the year.