On their third album, the Providence, R.I., quartet the Low Anthem make good use of the expanded recording budget afforded by the success of its NPR-beloved predecessor, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. The converted pasta sauce factory the band purchased with Charlie‘s windfall lends their backward-looking songs a natural sense of open space, as well as providing perhaps the only venue large enough to lay out their prolific instrument collection.
Although they look like hill people, the Low Anthem’s roster includes several Ivy League composition degrees and a stint at NASA, but they don’t let all that book learnin’ get in the way of a down-home ramble like “Apothecary Love,” whose lyrics obliquely not to their most obvious predecessor, the Band. “Boeing 737″ takes off in a wash of fuzz guitar and airborne horns, echoing the uplift of Arcade Fire without their overreach.
Smart Flesh sags in the middle like a thrift-store couch: “Matter of Time” takes a love song and slows it down to a soporific drone, and the sluggish “Burn” inspires the desire to give it a good kick in the flanks. (The instrumental “Wire,” performed by Jocie Adams on multi-tracked clarinets, is a lovely digression, but its placement only helps drag the album down.) “Hey, All You Hippies!” revives matters with a reeling waltz, but then it’s back to lurching mid-tempo. Smart Flesh gets off to a strong, sometimes thrilling start, but the lamp starts to sputter midway through the trek.