Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

ACL Explains It All: The Low Anthem

July 13, 2009

There’s a specific type of song that I seek out as the perfect song. It’s different in every genre; in punk it has to do with the way the verses and the chorus work together, and the way the vocals sound (melodic, but still gruff). In pop, it has to do with each interlocking piece having an element of catchiness (“Move Along” by the All-American Rejects is the perfect pop song, in my opinion, for exactly that reason).

In acoustic folk, it is a very simple but very difficult thing to achieve. For a folk song to be perfect, there has to be only an acoustic guitar throughout (some light percussion is allowed, but detracts). There can be multiple vocalists, but there needs to be one dominant. There can be a token solo instrument, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the mood of the song. The chorus needs to be sung enough but not too much; the verses need to have enough lyrics but not too few or too many. The song needs to flow as if it were being dictated instead of performed. It has to have an easy sway.

It seems harsh, but hey, perfect ain’t for everybody.

“Charlie Darwin” by the Low Anthem is very nearly a perfect song. The opening notes have the necessary sway; the multiple vocalists enter quickly, with a high-pitched male taking lead above the female and male oohs. The melody of the verse and chorus are arching, lofty, and pristine. They communicate lonely sadness better than any song about the founder of evolutionary thought should. The solo is equally forlorn, and it could be any number of instruments, but it’s pretty. The lyrics are cryptic, but vaguely sad. The mood of the song is never compromised; it’s all mournful and perfectly staged. It doesn’t vary from its goal. There’s even a climax that’s great.

It’s the type of song that I can listen to over and over without getting tired of it. Different parts of the song stick out to me at different listens. It’s amazing. I love it. Perfect song.

Good job, The Low Anthem. You’ve compelled me to come to your ACL set based entirely on the strength of one song. Their other songs are good too (“To Ohio” and “Ticket Taker” are very nearly perfect as well), but they just outdid themselves with “Charlie Darwin.”

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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