The penultimate transcript today, on The Low Anthem’s “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin”.
Allan Jones: This is a favourite of mine. It had been around the office for a while and I kept hearing snatches of it, and I just became totally engrossed by it. It’s a great exercise in story-telling, great lyrics, that really draws the listener in.
Billy Bragg: It’s one of my favourite albums of the year. Didn’t Uncut have one of their tracks on a cover-mount CD? Yeah, I remember picking it up an airport and their track really stood out. I saw them at the Newport Folk Festival on one of the little stages, I didn’t realise they were on the bill. I got there and the stage was just covered with instruments, I assumed there’d be ten of them, but then just three people walked out. One of them was this tiny woman, this almost fey little girl, and the three of them just made this incredible, beautiful, engaging music that really drew everybody in.
They revved it up, right to the back of the tent – which was totally crammed. The audience was totally enthralled. They seemed to move in and out of the contemporary and the past with ease. The lyrical content, of all the bands on the shortlist, was just incredible. My son picked up on it and wanted to hear it just on the strength of the little quote on the sleeve: “Set the sails, I feel the winds a-stirring/Towards the bright horizon set the way/Cast your wreckless dreams upon our Mayflower/A haven from the world and her decay”.
When you talk about making folk music, there’s folk music where you go back and you discover it as part of some tradition, and then there’s folk music that you seem to tune in to from a different angle – it’s something you do with your music, Rachel. You force the person who’s listening to you to think of music in a different way, you add something to it. I think The Low Anthem do that, and I’m really excited to find out where they go with it next. There’s a real beauty to this, and not a fragile beauty, it’s a very strong sense of self to what they’re doing.
Bob Harris: It’s interesting that their background, the way they’ve grown into who they are, is similar to the Fleet Foxes, are at least it’s not that dissimilar. You’ve got these two guys who meet this girl who works at the local library, I think, and she brings with her this whole spectrum of different sounds. I think what really appeals to me about this album is the willingness to experiment. You’ve got all this different influences in the mix.
My son does a hip-hop radio show, and I recall playing him the Fleet Foxes and he really got into it, and the term he came up with was that it was “beyond music”. And The Low Anthem are his latest favourite band for the same reason. I just love this album, I love the feel of it, and the fact that they’ve been so imaginative with the sound and the textures. I’m just swept over by it.
Dave Robinson: Well, I quite liked it, I thought it was about sixth on my list of the initial 25 albums. It isn’t particularly car music, and I find myself listening to most music while driving. Where you first hear something always colours your thoughts about it, and maybe that’s why this didn’t grab me as much as if I was playing it at home. I mean, I’m a bumptious, obnoxious, opinionated person and I’m always thinking that a lot of these artists need A&R people, they need guidance.
With the best will in the world, I love artists and I’ve spent a lot of my life dealing with them, and they’ve trained me to become a parent. It’s about objectivity, you’re always trying to add something to the artist and give them a fatherly hand. You find yourself saying “look, these three songs are stunning, they’re the benchmark. All the others you can find a use for later, after you’ve written another seven up to this benchmark”. For instance, I think Elvis Costello has a great career, but could have been much more memorable if he’d had an A&R person to guide him.
Mark Cooper: Imagine being that person, though…
Dave: I thought that this group, if they had a mentor it could have been really interesting. Everybody knows that after one or two records and the bottom line is looming, you tend to rush things. Whenever I’ve been involved in an album I’ve wanted it to be the equivalent of a greatest hits. Every song should be there because it’s got a great quality, rather than you’re trying to hide something below par in the running order and get away with it.
Rachel Unthank: I really liked the album, although I kind of didn’t like it for a while but then it grew on me again. They have a lovely way of storytelling, which makes you listen to their words. That’s important to me, with my music I want people to listen to what I’m saying, and I did find a lot of what they were saying really beautiful. I did struggle a little with the random loud bits, I haven’t really decided what I think about them. Do they give the music some light and shade, or is it too different to the rest. But the record’s got a lot of warmth to it. It reminds me a little of Sam Baker, in the way that they draw you into their world.
Mark: I agree with Dave, and I think they’ll go on to make better records. I think it’s got an aura of preciousness about it, though. I think “To Ohio” is a beautiful song, that’s the real stand-out. Overall, I think it’s a bit schizophrenic and doesn’t always add up to the sum of its parts, it’s just of a sketches of really good ideas which, if they’re any good, they will improve upon. I think the good moments are really good, but for me it’s not a great record.
Bob: I see what Dave’s saying, there’s that balance between just letting a group kind of be who they are or bringing someone else in to steer them to the next level. It’s that balance of letting the band breathe without there being too much of an outside influence but also with someone keeping an ear open for their best interests. I wouldn’t like them to surrender themselves totally to someone else’s thinking, though.
Billy: I think you have to join the dots a bit with this record. This is what they’ve got, this is the stall they’ve set out, and you’ve got to look at the little bits and ask yourself if they fit together. I hope they’ll get better, and the Fleet Foxes have kind of created the space for people to make records like this, and I think that’s a positive thing.
Tony Wadsworth: I think it’s a really great album, the first two songs are among the best things I’ve heard all year. I think you’ve got to think of bands like this as career artists, you have to let them follow the wind – a bit like the Mayflower! I’ll be very interested to see where they go from here, because there’s some fantastic songwriting. As an opening track, “Charlie Darwin” really gets your attention, but I’ve been thinking about this running order business, in terms of CDs. When everything was on vinyl you had a Side One and a Side Two, and you could kick Side Two with a fast track. Now it just appears round the middle and doesn’t quite grab you as much.
Rachel: I think for me they’re probably the only band whose lyrics I can remember, having had to listen to so much music in such a short space of time when considering the whole shortlist and trying to take it all in.
Billy: I know what you mean, I can see all the characters, in songs like “Ticket Taker”. Not just their faces but how they were going through all those emotions.
Tony: I actually went off to see Charles Darwin’s house after listening to this album!
Billy: I had to explain to my son what Peanuts was because of the title, the whole Charlie Brown/Charlie Darwin thing. So when you were checking out Darwin I was getting into Schultz.
Tony: That’s an intellectual spectrum for you!