With Canopy Glow’s opening salvo, “Noni’s Field,” we are introduced straight away to the topic of death. Amongst lush pile-ups of Pet Sounds harmony and Sung Tongs texture, Anathallo’s Matt Joynt and Erica Froman sing to the rafters: “We saw the sky, swarming full with the light/that the fireflies made/An accidental constellation/You, how will you go?/Out through your mouth in a sigh?/Into a space we don’t know.” It’s a surprisingly beautiful rendering of life’s most feared result: calm and considered, yet wide-eyed in approach, and colored by Kaleidoscopic detail. Canopy Glow, Anathallo’s second full-length (and first for Anticon), could be described just the same.
While 2006’s Floating World was a changeable work of broad swaths and Yes-loving rock symphonics, Canopy Glow presents the Chicago seven-piece as a band that has as much energy and inspiration as it does ownership of its sound. Following “Noni’s Field,” the guitar in “Italo” approaches like a steam engine, and when Erica’s voice rings, it’s both the melody and rhythm of the surge. Matt’s words arrive on washes of distorted chords and percussive flourish, turning the entire song into a work of tight, interlocking harmonics. Here and elsewhere, Anathallo takes a page from the Books, but applies that duo’s micro approach to this group’s very macro ability.
Texture and temperament play paramount on Canopy Glow, due in no small part to Anathallo’s multi-instrumentalist might. “Northern Lights” creeps in slow, a taut moodpiece with choral tendencies. “The River” is the album’s lynchpin and an epic in its own right, evolving from piano-driven modesty to Baroquen beauty—climbing strings, layered voices, crashing drums—as a kÅan slowly unravels about finding peace (the eternal kind) in high water. “Cafetorium” channels labelmate Dosh’s skittering drum-work into a gorgeous web of horns, vibes and guitar; “Sleeping Torpor” is a ghostly childhood reverie comprising breathy female vocals and darkly buoyant instrumentation; and “All The First Pages” offers a lilting sing-along about the humanness behind heroes.
Wherever there is playfulness on Canopy Glow, there is also profundity. “John J. Audubon” may have begun as a joke inspired by the famous naturalist, but it evolved into a sweetly considered tale about life’s fragility. In turn, Anathallo never introduces darkness without a providing levity. So, though “Bells” could be a heart-crushing rumination on love undone by complete and sudden memory loss, it ends on a wistful smile: “O, we are embarked/and return to the place we start/.../Well, someday if you wake/to a nameless stranger in me/Lead me outside. Let me go.” As “Tower Of Babel” brings Canopy Glow to a close, the album’s collected narratives and poems seem to proffer a single simple truth: the quality of each person’s path through life is determined by how one interprets and reacts to loss.
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