Providence-based band the Low Anthem has just released its fourth full-length album,“eyeland,” the group’s first major release in 5 years.
The Low Anthem shot to prominence in the late 2000’s with ghostly folk songs, but the new album is a departure from the sound that brought them initial acclaim.
The group, which formed in 2006, dealt in melancholy tunes with close harmonies and a folksy tinge.
“And that was very beautiful music, and we loved doing it, but after touring on the road for six years doing that, we really wanted change,” said Jeff Prystowsky, one of the band's founding members.
Prystowsky plays percussion, provides backup vocals and sound effects, as needed. On the new album they are needed a lot, like in the song “was god dreamt in words.”
One of four mainly instrumental tracks on the album, the song features heavy drums, the sounds of bird calls, and snippets of someone whistling the Beatles tune “Yellow Submarine.”
Lead singer Ben Knox Miller said it speaks to the sometimes difficult task of communicating as you grow up, and he's unconcerned that many tracks on this new album aren’t exactly easy listening.
“They’re not assembled in a way that’s meant to be pretty or provide a resolution at all points,” said Miller.
Sitting in their rehearsal space, Miller said the new music is about the confusion that comes with growing older or dealing with trauma. In fact, ‘eyeland’ is a concept album about the loss of childhood innocence.
Miller used a personal experience as the starting point for the album. As he describes it, a friend’s house burned down after an air hockey table caught fire. The scenario is directly referenced in a track aptly titled ‘in the air hockey fire.’ The song is a quieter moment on the album. Miller sings in a high falsetto, "I don’t know what I think, since the air hockey fire / time doesn’t seem real as it’s passing."
“So after the fire, the kids’ dreams and fantasy worlds just take this dark turn into paranoia and not understanding,” said Miller. “And a sort of shattering their sense of reality and their safety as children.”
Miller and Prystowsky said their own reality was shaken, just as they were beginning to record this album back in 2012. They were dropped from their label and lost their manager.
“And some of the band members left as well, and it was just Ben and I," said Prystowsky. "And we said, ‘can we still do this?’”
They decided they could. But if all this sounds a little dark, there are still moments of light on the album, including the song “ozzie,” which pays homage to former baseball player Ozzie Smith, who famously did backflips on the field. Smith was a childhood hero to Prystowsky, who decided to write the song after a friend mentioned that they shared a birthday: December 26th.
“So it was like, ‘Oh my god! My hero was born on my birthday, and I didn’t even know?” said Prystowsky.
The up-tempo track is aspirational and optimistic, with driving drums and horns.
Prystowsky said the album was about patience: patience to try new sounds, and take risks without the backing of a label or management.
In the meantime, the band opened a concert venue – the once-shuttered Columbus Theatre in Providence. The group also started a recording studio, and taught themselves how to produce records for other artists, as well as themselves.
Now after years at home, The Low Anthem is back on the tour circuit with an international tour for the new album. But group plans to return to Providence, where they will work with Trinity Repertory Company to bring ‘eyeland’ to the theater stage. The production is slated to premiere next year.