The Low Anthem: Shimmering Americana

All three members of The Low Anthem attended Brown University before taking the band full-time. i i

hide captionAll three members of The Low Anthem attended Brown University before making the band a full-time enterprise.

Willa Mamot Photography
All three members of The Low Anthem attended Brown University before taking the band full-time.

All three members of The Low Anthem attended Brown University before making the band a full-time enterprise.

Willa Mamot Photography

On its sophomore album, The Low Anthem introduces Oh My God, Charlie Darwin with a guitar strumming gently under a falsetto voice. It then echoes to a shimmer. It's a sound Uncut Magazine called "hymnal purity."

The Low Anthem is a trio of recently graduated Ivy Leaguers. The band's songwriting and sound is a sort of updated version of American folk and roots music, featuring everything from Appalachian ballads to full-throated bluesy stomps.

In this interview with Guy Raz, the band explains the significance of Charles Darwin in its songwriting and performs a song from the new album.

The Low Anthem: Newport Folk Festival 2009

The Low Anthem
Dan Miller

The Low Anthem was formed in 2006 by two friends and Brown University classmates — folk musician and painter Ben Knox Miller and baseball fanatic and jazz bassist Jeff Prystowski — and joined the next year by composer and NASA technician Jocie Adams. The disparate interests and careers (art, Americana and technology) of the three might be semaphore for the band's restless experimentation. On-stage, the trio is known to pass around multiple instruments during a single set, and to change a song drastically from one performance to another.

Describing his band's music, Miller has said, "Our arrangements are ever-changing, as are the instruments we take with us on the road. We try hard to keep it that way. Always trying to be in the state of discovery, rather than self-imitation."

Without help from a record label, The Low Anthem put out a self-titled debut in 2006 and followed it with What the Crow Brings in 2007. Each of the two albums is a lovely, quiet, jazz-inflected affair, and each kept the band squarely at cult-status levels. That would change in 2008, when The Low Anthem self-released a third disc that was subsequently snatched up for re-release by Nonesuch Records. Already pegged as one of 2009's top albums (according to reliable sources), The Low Anthem's Oh My God, Charlie Darwin shows the band turning its weary, haunted Americana into a balancing act of awe and anxiety, mapped by the simple but evocative push/pull of the title's struggle between religion and science.

The Low Anthem is spending the summer touring the U.S.; it'll play dates with fellow Newport Folk Festival acts Joe Pug and Langhorne Slim following the festival. A European tour is planned for the fall.

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Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

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Purchase Featured Music

  • Album: Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
  • Artist: The Low Anthem
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2009
 

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