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Branching out

The Low Anthem’s roots run deep
By BOB GULLA  |  September 3, 2008

GETTING STRONGER: Prystowsky, Miller, and Adams in May.

Heaven-sent and handmade, the Low Anthem’s new disc, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, descends on its listeners like a paper airplane, wobbling lightly on the breeze. Its musical trajectory, pleasingly unpredictable, swings gently but widely — from acoustic reveries to indie Americana to a folkish interpretation of Tom Waits’s “Home I’ll Never Be.”

Last year, when they debuted with What the Crow Brings, the Low Anthem emerged with a unique, if fragile and uncertain, aesthetic, characterized by eclectic instrumentation, delicate presentations, and an eerie sort of resonance. That album won enough acclaim and fans to take this mag’s Best Album prize in the ’08 Best Music Poll and helped vault the trio to local and regional prominence.

Since then, the band has grown exponentially. Oh My God’s roots run deeper and more assertively, and they’ve shored up their uncertainties with a more fully defined aesthetic. The new recording, made earlier this year on Block Island with co-producer Jesse Lauter, makes good on the promise of their debut with a kind of quiet resolve. “Some people were worried that we would expand too much and get too commercial,” says bassist Jeff Prystowsky from New York City, where the band opened its tour in support of the record. “But we have definitely stuck to our band roots. It’s just that we’ve fleshed our music out: the ballads are fuller and the rock and roll is rockier.”

As the sound has expanded, so has the Low Anthem lineup. At the tail end of the last recording, they added keyboardist Jocie Adams, a classically trained musician. On the new album, 20-year-old Cyrus Scofield, a Downeaster from Hope, Maine, has joined the fray. “He’s a drummer primarily,” says guitarist/vocalist Ben Knox Miller, “but he can also play horns and organ, so we can still swap our instruments and not get locked into the traditional four-piece rock band thing.”

The band has 28 dates on tap up and down the East Coast, in the Midwest, and the South. “We’re crowding into a van,” says Ben. “We’re going to get to know each other pretty well over the next month or so.” 

So too are national audiences. Thanks to some DIY promo, more fans are showing up and that enthusiasm has translated into bigger and better shows. “When you do all these things to promote yourself, you get this new energy at gigs,” says Jeff. “We play 100-capacity venues around the country, so it doesn’t take much to get a good turnout. There’s something about live performance in a packed room — you can reach a new level when the audience is willing it from you. It’s so gratifying, and all you did was send out some emails during the day.”

Another part of the band’s success is its appeal to diverse audiences, at edgy places like Firehouse 13 (they’ll be there on Friday, September 5) as well as larger events like the Pawtucket Arts Festival, which opens Stone Soup’s 28th season on Sunday, September 14. They’ve also hit traditional folk haunts like Club Passim in Cambridge and the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, in addition to conventional indie rock houses. “We really get a mixed crowd, all age groups,” says Ben. “We get high school kids and we get the older folk crowd. I love that. It’s not a particular scene or clique. We don’t get much of the hipster crowd, which is fine. I love that the music is not dependent on any one scene.”

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