ANATHALLO’S DEBUT album, Floating World, for all its wandering and wide-eyed juvenility, was an ultimately likeable effort. One Sufjan Stevens endorsement and very negative Pitchfork review later we have Canopy Glow, an album that almost manages to shed an entirely new light on the band. Anathallo’s jubilant harmonies have coalesced and matured; the vocals are stronger and more self-assured, and the melodies are finally anchored to concise, palatable song structures. In short, the band has achieved a success that Floating World only hinted at and—(pats band on the back) embarrassing lyrics aside—produced a much stronger album.
The extensive intros, outros, and loose ends that populated Floating World have been replaced by ten concise, purposeful tracks. The newfound confidence is on full display on Canopy Glow opener, “Noni’s Field.” Compared to the meandering and unsure compositions on their debut, it’s not hard to see the song as a revelation; a track where Anathallo took the snippets of inspiration scattered across Floating World and fit them into a four-and-a-half-minute song. And, for half the album, it only gets better.
“Italo” starts a little like a kids’ exercise tape might, with Erica Froman singing,“When you get up/When you wake up/Put your hands up/Pick yourself up.” Band leader Matt Joynt’s voice comes in to sing the second versus, but Froman determinedly continues her chant in the background. It’s a classic Anathallo conceit; the entire album is a mess of instruments and layered vocals, snippets of ever-changing melodies that take a while to stick but, once they’re there, stay with you.
If there’s one attribute of Anathallo’s music that’s sure to be criticized—and justly so—it is the lyrics. This is an album with lines like “You were baptized by a dollop from a cool whip bowl,” and “You paper cut the air above the tundra.” I’m at a loss to how the band attaches such gravity and emotion to such nonsense, but somehow they do. It’s helpful that most of the lyrics are nearly indecipherable—on “Cafetorium” (see the aforementioned “cool whip bowl” lyric) you catch the word “baptized” but not much else; “Italo” manages to evoke vague images that nullify the oddity of “A baby born in the nightclub mold/Where goons dry-heave the factory glue all crust-lipped and blood-nosed.” These lines have an impressionistic effect, and that’s about all they need to accomplish.
Anathallo has also front-loaded Canopy Glow with the bests songs and I subsequently found myself skipping over the album’s last two or three tracks (namely “Bells” and “Tower of Babel”) after a few listens. Ultimately, though, these are songs that have you hitting the back button just to revel in the glory of the melodies and instrumentation, and the euphoria of the first listen keeps coming back.
Timothy Zila is a Patrol music critic.
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