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Anathallo’s early years were likewise packed, despite having seven or eight members at any given time. They released four independent EPs (one hand-painted, another packaged with dirt and wildflower seeds), stuffed their many odd instruments into every room that’d allow it (fans’ houses, 4-H clubs, churches, veterans halls), and slumbered under the roof of their green Dodge Caravan in hospital parking lots (these had the best lighting) when they were away from home, which was often. By the time the band released its first full-length in 2006—a shifting work of virtuosity and earnestness called Floating World—they’d racked up an astounding 18 national tours. The bulk of that year was also spent on the road (with two glockenspiels, as many an awed critic reported), and upon returning home, the band realized it was time to leave again.
Offered a permanent residency at a Chicago church (via friend and artist Tim Lowly), Anathallo moved en masse to the Windy City in January of 2007. They took up odd jobs tending to other people’s food, dogs and data, and practiced at Berry United Methodist for five hours each night. Taking their name’s Greek translation to heart (“to renew, refresh, or bloom again”), the crew’s current lineup tangled up their roots in new soil, cultivated their overlapping interests in literature, music and film, and grew heartily toward a new album. Following a trip out to California for Coachella, the seven Anathallians dropped their day-jobs and hunkered down in one of the church’s humid old rooms. With the daycare kids next door shooting them funny faces, the band wrote Canopy Glow, an album that finds the band in the same blessed headspace birthed by Mt. Pleasant (five of them are natives to the area, after all), but more focused than ever. Rumor has it, Anticon was the only label that Matt, Bret, Danny, Seth, Jeremiah, Erica and Jamie could all agree on.
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 k?an 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.