There is a certain indie artist who seems to find his way into practically every Anathallo review. He is a quirky, ambitious multi-instrumentalist who has been known to aspire towards the Christian faith. Some of Anathallo’s qualities are very similar to this certain artist, but this review will not mention his name. This is because Anathallo is doing something wholly unique. They are truly original, and it’s about time they be taken at their own merit.
A band of seven, Anathallo creates brilliantly ambitious indie rock. Their previous release, Floating World, was an overwhelmingly dense journey into Japanese culture and do-it-yourself fanaticism. With Canopy Glow, the work ethic sounds just as determined, but now labors with a steadier hand. Songs no longer stretch beyond six minutes, and each track is a gem unto itself. Lead singer, Matt Joynt explains Anathallo’s matured sound, “I think we consciously limited it down, instead of touching a million instruments we asked ‘what new sound could we get this time?’” Restraint has been enacted, and Anathallo no longer sounds like a schizophrenic marching band stomping around a landfill picking up whatever old object catches their fancy (though it is fun to listen to something like that).
However, Matt admits to some overdosing on Canopy Glow, “There are still a ridiculous three active sets of hand bells, 8-trillion keyboards, and coffee cans turned upside down being hit with coins underneath them.” He laughs at the idea of looking for so many sounds with such intensity, “I can’t say authoritatively how many instruments are on the album, but enough that we maxed out how many tracks we could record in Pro-Tools, which I think is over 128!”
Horns, keyboards, vocals, percussion and a countless number of extra materials make up the lushness of Canopy Glow. It sounds huge in headphones, and somehow transfers into their live show as well. Occasionally packing all of these instruments and seven people onto tiny stages, Anathallo can look like drones in a beehive. There’s always something different to strum, bang, shake or shout.
Though everybody in the band sings, Erica Froman adds a new softness and depth to Anathallo. Usually adding harmonies beneath Matt, Erica grounds the music, keeping a delicate tone glazed over the entire album.
Melodically, this is Anathallo’s strongest outing, with choruses that will replay in listeners’ heads hours after listening. There are highlights from start to finish, but nothing is quite as remarkable as the album’s centerpiece, “The River.”
Matt Joynt tells the story of the song; “It’s about this experience that Erica’s mom had on the Pacific Crest trail when she was hiking. She was trying to cross this river and didn’t know the current was as strong and deep as it was. She took this step that plunged her down into the river and she couldn’t get out because she had this huge pack on. A really fast current was carrying her down into some really rocky areas. So the song is conceived out of a response to that experience when she realized that she was going to die, and was like ‘there’s no way I’m going to get out, I’m stuck and there’s nothing I can do about it.””
He continues, “So it’s drawing from that existentialist stuff of how you narrate a moment and say ‘what is valuable about this?’ instead of ‘well this sucks, I guess I’m a victim of everything.’ But being able to really say, ‘I have this moment right now. I can’t move, but I can look up and take in this current that I’m moving in’ instead. When she realized she was going to die, she looked up at the way the sun was coming through the canopy of leaves and almost laughed at how inconsequential this death she was about to experience was. There was no ceremony, nothing about getting old, it was just totally unplanned and without preparation. Just [snap] life, happening.” (Fortunately, she lived through the experience to be able to tell this story)
It was a story that affected both Matt and Erica so deeply that they had to write about it. Matt goes on, “Erica started writing lyrics, and then we eventually wrote together. We imagined life as a current, like the way that some Vietnamese Buddhists frame life sometimes. You can either go against the current, or move with it and be totally present for whatever it brings you. So, life as a ceremony. Life as a religious experience. The spirituality of the every day.”
This song spotlights much of what Anathallo represents as a group of artists. They have been known for many years as a “christian band,” but have since broken free of that label. Matt believes that there is a spirituality in everything, and that creativity should not be hindered by a doctrine. With this ideology, Anathallo breaks through any cynicism or roadblock before them. They are free to create whatever music God enables them to make; boundaries are not feared.
It’s easy to hear peace in this record, one that recalls an autumn day in a thick forest. Stepping over logs while woodpeckers peck and songbirds sing, Canopy Glow takes a picture of creation and blends it into a musical idea. The moments of calm do not clash with the abundance of bustle. The clearly spiritual themes are not strangled by legalism. Inspired by the timelessness of nature, Canopy Glow is a joyous experience of perpetual spirituality and unhindered artistry.
Video for “Bells”
Stream “The River”