Financial expediency drove The Low Anthem to record their second album, What the Crow Brings, in their own homes, but this Providence, Rhode Island-based quartet has since learnt the worth of an inspirational setting. The group's existentially themed breakthrough record Oh My God, Charlie Darwin was made on Block Island, off the coast of their home state. Now comes Smart Flesh, which came into the world in an abandoned pasta sauce factory back on the mainland.
With recording undertaken in winter 2010, the chill of the vacant building seems to have permeated the album's unremittingly dark music. The factory's cavernous reverb also engulfs some decidedly creaky instrumentation, with The Low Anthem employing clarinet, bowed saw, lonesome banjo and asthmatic pump-organ on their spectral, sepia-tinted songs. If the record has a message, it is that all things must pass, and material such as I'll Take Out Your Ashes is unflinchingly honest.
We get everything from a 1929 song by George Carter (Ghost Woman Blues) to an atonal woodwind instrumental (Wire) that conjures Talk Talk's meditative masterpiece Spirit of Eden, but communing with Smart Flesh in the wee small hours is an eerie experience. Musically, at least, the piano-led hymnal Golden Cattle lifts the spirits somewhat, but The Reaper, never quite out of shot here, soon returns to steal the final scene. A bleak if beautiful listen.