NPR logo First Listen: The Low Anthem, 'Smart Flesh'

First Listen: The Low Anthem, 'Smart Flesh'

Smart Flesh, The Low Anthem's follow-up to Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, will be released in the U.S. on Feb. 22. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Smart Flesh, The Low Anthem's follow-up to Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, will be released in the U.S. on Feb. 22.

Courtesy of the artist

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The first time we fell in love with a Low Anthem record, the group was hand-crafting its self-released CDs and volunteering to pick up trash at the Newport Folk Festival. Now that the Rhode Island band has played on the big stage at that same hometown festival and signed with a big label, it's still making records worth discovering slowly and embracing with loving care.

The follow-up to Oh My God, Charlie Darwin — provocatively titled Smart Flesh — showcases a band that's never been on surer footing. Whereas Charlie Darwin let its graceful choral-folk ballads brush up against barroom rock stompers, Smart Flesh veers toward a more consistently melancholy blend of blues, folk and country.

Alternately rustic and relevant, these songs sound haunted in every possible way — and not just in the appropriately titled "Ghost Woman Blues," either. "I'll Take Out Your Ashes" is more than merely tinged with guilt and regret, while that most ghostly of instruments, the singing saw, makes a prominent appearance in "Burn." A bit of rock 'n' roll muscle surfaces in the bruising "Boeing 737," but Smart Flesh is more hymn-like than hedonistic on the whole, and beautiful through and through.

Smart Flesh will stream here in its entirety until its release on Feb. 22. Please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below.

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