Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Patrick Stolley
Try this: Find the room that speaks the loudest in your house. It would be great it you lived in a place that's been around, that's made of wood that had it survived the lumberjack's cut, it would be a grandfatherly tree, with a thick and meaty circumference. It could have been a tree that, in its summertimes, would have given enough shade to cover a whole neighborhood, but instead, it's nothing but a bellyacher every time it's stepped upon or it barks horribly whenever the weather changes from winter-to-spring, or fall-to-winter. You want a room that feels like it's alive, as if there are things happening in it that you can't see and never will, but you hear them, like the echoes of all the people who have ever been inside, back for an unannounced visit. Take a single, wooden chair and place a candle in the middle of the floor. Turn off all the lights. Light that candle and just sit there. Be still and be silent. Watch the gray smoke curl up lightly, like sacred words. See the triumphant yellow light frolic on the ceiling, out on parole from the end of the wick. The next thing that you need to do is put The Low Anthem's new album, "Smart Flesh" on the turntable and stay quiet. Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky, Jocie Adams and new member Mat Davidson will translate the motions of the light in the room. They'll do you one better too. They're translate the dark parts that surround you too, and they'll tell you what they have to do with those light parts. They'll introduce you to all of the spirits that are roaming in that old room you're in. It's rather crowded, really.
As a writer, Knox Miller, has a way of bringing us to all of the wakes in his life, even when they have nothing to do with death. He's a mournful sort and what it makes for in Low Anthem music is a sum of all the parts, a world that is often a very sad place, but one that is still rooted in an overwhelming yearning for joy. It's a world that - even when the shit is the thickest and the lows are the lowest - we are spoiled by a surplus of beauty. We see it through tears, which turn into prisms. We see it in death and we see it in birth. We are capable beings, but we are also as fragile as a kiss and a promise. The Providence, Rhode Island band can make us feel such great levels of hopefulness, even in the face of ugliness, in a "world gone mad." It can make us chuckle toward the end of our crying jags, the sobs getting broken by something to sustain us. Without question, "Smart Flesh" will be a contender for album of the year when it comes to that, with a theme of losses that change everything. They aren't the kinds of misfortunes that are smoothed over with time, but the ones that leave lasting scars, that change our very make-up. When they're through, we are different people. In what could be Knox Miller's finest lyrical moment to this point, he sings as an old man, of a lover's death on "I'll Take Out Your Ashes": "It's a sad and prideful feeling/Since I did not drive to Michigan/Scramblin' eggs and bacon/And you're right here in the kitchen/I've got plans and dreams and all kinds of schemes and now I'm beyond all repair/For time just ain't no healer, with your ashes sittin' there/I know you have been counting on me/Ever since your sad cremation day/I scanned all your Alzheimer's poetry for all that I wished that it would say/It's a sad and guilty feeling/Since I did not take out your ashes/Whatever I was fearing, never came to passing." You are completely destroyed by the end of it, the weight of the departure hitting you - someone dealing with the passing of a soul mate who might not know that she's leaving her soul mate. She might have no idea. It's a brutal story of the depths of love and death and how the final punctuation on anyone's story is always a period or a question mark, but never an exclamation point. It's a signal ending, the end of a broadcast, met by a deafening silence. It's for those times when we're alone in an empty room and we know we aren't, but we can never prove it. Knox Miller, knows that frustration, singing, "You believe it's love that puts the light in the dark, well, maybe so." It's that "maybe so," that will always torture us.