Arts & Culture

The Low Anthem releases new album

Providence indie folk band, founded by alums in 2006, prepares for fifth LP release

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Low Anthem embraces unconventional recording and performing methods as their new album takes nautical inspiration, with tracks taking place under and around the sea.

The Low Anthem, an eminent Providence-based indie folk act, is slated to release their fifth LP, “The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea” Feb. 23. Band co-founders Jeff Prystowsky ‘06 and Ben Knox Miller ‘06 both studied music at Brown, founding The Low Anthem shortly after graduating in 2006. Instead of moving to Brooklyn — where Knox Miller said “all the cool bands wentin the Myspace days” — they decided to produce their music in Providence because “it’s cheap and there are lots of inspiring people who are trying to do something creative” and it’s “also within two hours of all these major markets where we can go and perform.”

One of their albums, “Smart Flesh,” released in 2011, was recorded in a deserted Porino’s pasta sauce factory in Central Falls, Rhode Island — a building with surprisingly great acoustics. “It was a cavernous space, and at the time we were interested in sound that sounded like it was coming from across a field or a mile away,” Knox Miller said.

When looking for a place to record their fourth album, “eyeland,” released in 2016, The Low Anthem stumbled upon the then-shuttered Columbus Theater in Federal Hill. Before closing in 2009, the Columbus had served as a performance venue — a role dating back to the 1920s. With some fundraising generated for its reopening, the Columbus came to be converted into a recording studio, music co-operative and concert venue. When asked which contemporary indie artists they admired, Prytowsky and Knox Miller mentioned Mega Bog and Haley Heynderickx, but said that they glean most of their inspiration from the performers who come through the Columbus Theater.

“Nothing beats the quality of what you can see on the stage,” Knox Miller said. “The music that I’ve been exposed to is usually coming through the Columbus Theater specifically,” a venue which has recently been host to alt-rock acts Mitski and Mount Eerie, among others. The record will be marked by an accompanying release show at the venerated theater Feb. 24 to kick off the East Coast leg of The Low Anthem’s North American tour.

The Low Anthem’s sound has evolved considerably over the years. Jeff described “eyeland” as a “fantastical, psychedelic sci-fi album” centered around the “vast[ness] of our neural networks.” Eerie, cosmically whimsical tracks like “am i the dream or am i the dreamer” and “in the air hockey fire” excavated childhood and consciousness and cheekily critiqued capitalism and bureaucracy. Their new LP, “The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea,” is similarly experimental and conceptual, but centers around another subject entirely: The ancient metaphor of the Salt Doll, which the band’s founders happened upon in a biography about American composer John Cage called “Where the Heart Beats.”

“The story goes that the Salt Doll tries to measure the depth of the sea, but it inherently can’t measure the sea and come back to share its measurements because it will dissolve,” Prystowsky said. “It’s a nice, concise account of the comedy of trying.”

Ten out of the album’s eleven tracks take place under or around the sea, with clever and occasionally twee lyrics that muse on the perspectives of ocean dwellers, eulogize supercontinents and chronicle the Salt Doll’s ultimately futile search for meaning and personal reconciliation as it journeys downward through the ocean’s layers.

All of the rhythms on “The Salt Doll” were created on an instrument composed of three record players, an “experimental music station” invented by Knox Miller that involves “distressing a vinyl with sandpaper to create continuous loops” — a process which gives the album a uniquely immersive aquatic feel.

Above all else, The Salt Doll is conceptual, not confessional. “We get on a kick about something and we just write about that thing,” Knox Miller said. “None of our records are autobiographical — we’re latching onto an idea and illustrating it. It’s not about us at all — it’s as if we were documentary movie makers and our newest documentary was ‘The Salt Doll.’”

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