The Low Anthem – The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The Sea
Joyful Noise Recordings – 23 February 2018
Constructed by frontman Ben Knox Miller while co-founder and drummer/bassist Jeff Prystowsky was in recovery from concussion following a mid-tour crash that wiped out much of their equipment. The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea takes John Cage as the prime influence for an album that, while predominantly acoustic, also incorporates electronic textures, albeit far removed from the experimental nature of Eyeland that took them a universe away from their early folk stylings of Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. Here, spawned from the processed percussive sound of a needle going around the inner loops of a vinyl record, with what Knox Miller terms as subtle energy circularism, they fuse both those early folk inclinations and their exploration of new electronic horizons.
The album genesis came from Knox Miller reading Where The Heart Beats, Kay Larsen’s biography of Cage and the fable of the salt doll in which, in an attempt to know itself, the doll gradually immerses itself in the sea until it is completely dissolved. Conceived by Knox Miller as a song cycle, Prystowsky’s described it as a circular journey to the bottom of the sea through which the doll, encountering various experiences along the way, ultimately becomes one with that universe.
With only three tracks that nudge past the three-minute mark, it balances airy accessibility with numbers that make you work a touch harder. Cases in point are the sparse, underwater feel of Coral Crescent, the rumbling electronica instrumental Dotwav, the drifting currents of Cy Twombly By Campfire (a reference to the American painter, sculptor and photographer) where hushed, breathy vocals are backed by a persistent electronic pulse, a skeletal beat and assorted blurps, crackled and squelches. Likewise, the album closer, Final Transmission From The Diving Umbrella, enfolds Knox Miller’s fragile falsetto in skittering percussive beats and electronic eddies that mirror the ambience of the opening Bone of Sailor, Bone of Bird which might perhaps be described as a meeting between Fleet Foxes and Portishead.
In contrast, while maintaining the electronic palette, built around electric piano and acoustic guitar, the rhythmically puttering River Brine is a more immediate, soft and folksy number, shifting to the whispery-sung, gentle alt-Americana jog of Give My Body Back with its shades of early Paul Simon. Occupying kindred musical territory, the pulsing drone of Drowsing Drowsy Dolls has the narcotic hypnotic vibe suggested by the title, while Toowee Toowee is a lazy stroll that musically conjures that state where you’re neither asleep nor quite awake. The title is the sound made by cardinal birds and crakes, but also means the level of excitement prompted by the discovery of universal truths, and there are other obscure allusions too. The crackling electronica of The Krill Whistle Their Fight Song may be a nod to the alien race featured in Seth McFarlane’s TV series The Orville, or, equally given the album’s watery context, the small crustaceans at the bottom of the food chain. The dreamy keys-backed Gondwana Land refers to the prehistoric supercontinent that incorporated modern Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar, Australia, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent and links to the album’s theme of returning to and merging with the source.
As I say, it is a work that requires you take the time to fully listen and absorb it, but, like immersion in brine baths, the results have an unexpectedly relaxing and calming effect.
The Low Anthem European Tour
20 Apr The Grand Social, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
21 Apr Stereo, Glasgow, Scotland (UK)
23 Apr The Deaf Institute, Manchester, England (UK)
24 Apr The Thekla, Bristol, England (UK)
25 Apr Glee Club, Birmingham, England (UK)
26 Apr Dingwalls, London, England (UK)
27 Apr Patterns, Brighton, Sussex, England (UK)
29 Apr Bitterzoet, Amsterdam (NL)
30 Apr Pumpehuset, Copenhagen (DK)
02 May Studio 672, Cologne (DE)
03 May Dok, Gent (BE)
Tickets from https://www.lowanthem.com/tour/