The new album from The Low Anthem, The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea, takes an inquisitive, almost scientific approach to song craft, relying on observation, hypothesizing, experimentation, repetition, and conclusions. Each song introduces various sounds and approaches in order to tell an open-ended story.
The Low Anthem has consistently taken new approaches to their albums, using different sounds and lineups to convey new layers. At the heart of this album is a piece of story, but more importantly, short, controlled environments to try out new cyclical sounds, melodies, and words.
“We’re always trying out new ideas. In Eyeland, the dense layering of a hundred tracks on a single song conveyed the feeling of vast networks of interconnected firing neurons,” says founding member Jeff Prystowsky. “With The Salt Doll, simplicity, space, and silence are the characters that come to the fore.”
What is immediately striking about The Salt Doll is the relatively short two-minute running time of most of the songs. This rapid turnover moves the record quickly, and each song offers a different shade of resonant and barren arrangements. The songs utilize meditative vocal melodies and striking imagery in verses separated by biological interludes – reminiscent of heartbeats, breathing, and firing synapses. Lush, blippy, lo-fi beats sit in the background, creating an almost peripheral sound that slowly pushes the songs in one emotional direction or another,
“We wanted to focus on the edges and dynamics of each particular element,” Prystowsky points out. “It’s easiest to do that with plenty of room to walk around in, with not much clutter around to distract you.”
The current lineup of The Low Anthem includes founders Prystowsky and Ben Knox Miller in addition to the talents of two friends: Florence Grace Wallis, “an exceptional poet, writer, violinist, singer, and person,” and Bryan Minto, “a builder, craftsman, guitar/harp soundscape artist and gentle soul.”
What becomes clear from both Eyeland and their latest album, despite the two being polar opposites in sound and scope, is the cohesive and collaborative nature of this current incarnation of the group. With the various sounds and dance-in-and-out moments on this album, it is clear that many heads are approaching each track, pushing impulse and inspiration into small shared spaces with unfamiliar instruments.
“It’s best to first hear a sound, then attempt to find a way to make it,” Prystowsky says. “When you start with an instrument you know well, your body is programmed to play certain licks. We try to eliminate this knee-jerk memory by focusing on the silence instead.”
The Low Anthem has also been the catalyst behind the revival of The Columbus Theatre as a go-to place for culture in Providence. In this setting, Prystowsky points to the butterfly effect of art.
“The theater is a constant well of creativity for me,” he says. “I go to every show the theater puts on, to be inspired by new music, in order to create more. It’s like a cycle of creativity. And the theater is home to all the musical instruments I love, a musical community to talk to, and our favorite recording equipment. So, it’s a dream to me. A palace of music.”