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"Canopy Glow"

Anathallo – Canopy Glow
01 July 2009, 19:28 Written by Angus Finlayson
urlIn their earliest EPs, dating from the early noughties, Anathallo occasionally sound like a sea-shanty inspired Mars Volta tribute act; or, in their (even) darker moments, a kind of crass pop-punk band with mildly proggy tendencies and a trumpet or two. Ok, so maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but what’s abundantly clear is that this band have come a long way in the last 8 or so years. In Canopy Glow, their second label-released full length (and first on the Anticon label), teenage angst is replaced with...well, adult angst. Which is something we all have, innit.Opener ‘Noni’s Field’ is a prime example; musically, it erupts with an agile beauty which prevails through much of the album. Lyrically, however, we are launched straight into the meat of human preoccupation; "How will you go?", reads Matt Joynt’s lilting vocal, "Out through your mouth in a sigh? Into a space we don’t know". Heavy stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.That’s not to say that this album is particularly hard work, though. From the outset the clarity of sound is of the highest order; pianos, guitars, strings, brass - everything sparkles in a way that is a pleasure to the ear. In ‘Northern Lights’, 3-part vocal harmonies are imbued with just the right amount of imperfection, while the twinkling xylophone and cello passages in 'The River’ are unabashed ear-candy. There are hints of some more left-field production techniques as well - in the clicks and clatters of the intro to ‘Cafetorium’, for example - which would compliment the band’s sound well, but for now they seem satisfied with a rich, largely acoustic soundworld.Musically there’s a great deal of delicacy, too. Often complexity hides beneath the surface, lending depth and finesse to what could otherwise be dull or predictable; as in the quasi-gamelan cross-rhythms of ‘Bells’. Structures are subtly detailed, and the odd unexpected twist makes for an engaging listen. Throughout the album, Anathallo leap between quiet poignancy and stomping climax with satisfying ease; though there are a few lapses into out-and-out jubilance - most notably in ‘All The First Pages’ - which seem to cheapen the whole experience a little.The fact is that, in spite of the vast assortment of instruments available to this band (most of which seem to be used on ‘The River’), Canopy Glow is a fundamentally vocal-led record. And therein lies, perhaps, its main weakness; the lyrics have real clout, but Joynt’s super-light delivery often obscures them beyond recognition, and Erica Froman’s near-constant harmonies can sometimes feel unneeded. Aside from a few standout tracks (particularly the hook-saturated ‘Italo’), hopping, birdlike melodies are often lacking in something recognisable to hold on to; conversely, in tracks such as ‘Sleeping Torpor’ and ‘John J. Audubon’, strong vocals struggle to conceal a slight directionlessness in the music. By the time closer ‘Tower of Babel’ is reached, its simple clarity is a much-needed tonic. But too little too late, perhaps. 62%Anathallo on MySpace
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