Anathallo Canopy Glow

[anticon.; 2008]

Styles: baroque indie pop
Others: Sufjan Stevens, Page France, Annuals

“Anathallo,” translated from Greek, means, “to renew, refresh, or bloom again.” Although Anathallo most likely intended the name to be a testament to their faith, it’s definitely applicable to their latest release. (A Holiday at the Sea, an early EP, took its title from a quote from revered theologian C.S. Lewis.) Despite the band's having recently signed with anticon., Canopy Glow shows little to no influence from hip-hop or electronic music. The move does, however, mark a clear change in their trajectory. Gone are the multi-song suites and obscure conceptual underpinnings of 2006’s polarizing Floating World. Canopy Glow sees the band returning to a more straightforward pop format — as straightforward as a band with a penchant for the theatrical may ever get — with successful results.

Their words are often presented from a naïve, childlike perspective, alternately realized as terror, optimistic wonder, or somewhere in between. “Sleeping Torpor” speaks of hiding in pantries and closets from some threatening presence, and “Noni’s Field” finds the narrator pondering death and the afterlife. Despite the heavy amount of Biblical and Christian imagery (crucifixes, baptism, the Tower of Babel, and yokes all make appearances), singer Matt Joynt is never didactic and rarely even overt about his spirituality. Rather, the lyrics are for the most part very abstract and vague, and any number of meanings could be attributed to them.

Joynt's physical delivery of the words is quite impressive; on “Italo” and “John J. Audubon,” he sings long, convoluted phrases in heavily syncopated rhythmic patterns, but does so effortlessly. The members’ past involvement in theater is evident in both this histrionic vocal style and the band's elaborate arrangements (the latter of which, along with their Christian affiliation, has garnered them several inevitable Sufjan Stevens comparisons), but the band streamlines their sprawling tracks and avoids musical congestion. Although some of the structures are still pretty expansive, the players don’t get sidetracked or lose sight of their original ideas. Most importantly, the songs have a lot of room to breathe, a vast improvement over the very full and sometimes overwhelming Floating World.

There still are horn and string embellishments, and many various percussive elements, but Joynt’s confident guitar and piano have become the most prominent elements in the mix. Nearly every band member is credited with percussion, but Jeremiah Johnson’s deft polyrhythmic technique dominates, giving each song a sense of propulsion and vitality. Triumphant instrumental passages (“John J. Audubon,” the final minute of “Noni’s Field”) and exuberant, infectious choruses (“The River,” “All the First Pages”) are balanced with comparatively subdued tracks (“Bells,” “Northern Lights”).

If there’s a point of contention, it no doubt lies in the high melodrama of the whole affair. Although Anathallo have made progress in reigning in their songs and cutting down on the massive number of overdubs, Canopy Glow doesn’t represent a radical transformation as much as a step in the evolution of the band — not a bad thing if they continue to release albums as consistent as this.

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