9/11 was suddenly thrust back into our minds last night and today as we learn the details surrounding Osama Bin Laden’s death. We were collectively shaken to our core after the fall of the Twin Towers and the events of 9/11 inspired lyrics in many songs released in 2001 and the years following. Songs like “Jesus Etc” by Wilco are aural fossils of the time period, with words like “Tall buildings shake/ Voices escape singing sad sad songs” serving as subtle artifacts for future generations to explore.
A decade later, The Low Anthem released Smart Flesh and a song called “Boeing 737.” It’s my favorite song of the year – my favorite in recent memory. It opens with a violent fury of cymbals crashing over trumpet, guitar, and pump organ and lyrics that would make Guthrie proud. The song places a character high up in the World Trade Center where he buys a drink for Phillipe Petit, a tightrope walker known for his epic “man on a wire” tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in the 70′s:
I was in the air when the towers came down
In a bar on the 84th floor
I bought Philippe Petit a round
And asked what his high wire was for
He said, I put one foot on the wire,
One foot straight into heaven
As the prophets entered boldly into the bar
On the Boeing 737, Lord, on the Boeing 737
You’ll then find lyrical genius in the chorus:
Hey little bird, would you be the one
To nest beneath my Gatling gun?
There’s nothing left I call my own
Come down and build me a home.
The literary verse is open to interpretation, but it paints a picture for resolution and a more peaceful existence. “Boeing 737″ has the capacity to weaken your knees or reduce you to tears and its song craft is triumphant – almost prophetic. If it had been written today, inspired by last night’s events, the song would make total sense. I hate to ignore the beauty in other songs in this session, especially “Love and Altar,” but 737 is a personal song obsession.
It’s hard to put into words what The Low Anthem’s music means to me. There isn’t a band out there that I’ve listened to more frequently or with as much focus over the years. I continue to listen to their entire discography, including What The Crow Brings, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, and now Smart Flesh and find more to explore each time. I frequently revisit our first session with The Low Anthem to hear “Charlie Darwin,” my favorite recorded version of that song (perhaps because I was in the live room videotaping). And now here we are with a fresh batch of songs off of 2011′s Smart Flesh.
The band poses some challenges in a session because each musician in the band rotates to play a different instrument on each song. Allow me to illustrate with notes from session producer, Steve Shirk:
“Matter of Time”
Ben: Vocals and Pump Organ
Jeff: Upright Bass
Ben: Vocals and Guitar
Jocie: Vocals Pump Organ and Trumpet
Matt: Vocals and Electric Bass
Ben: Vocals and Banjo
Jocie: Dulcimer run through a guitar amp
Jeff: Drum Kit
Matt: Electric Bass
And then on “Love and Altar,” the band gathered around Shirk’s vintage RCA 44bx ribbon microphone – Ben on acoustic guitar, Matt on Banjo, Jeff on Jaw Harp and Jocie on the faintly heard Hammond Organ. Shirk fed the recorded signal through an EMT 140 plate reverb. When he played a rough mix back for the band a few minutes later, he mixed in loads of reverb against the dry signal. Worried that it might be too much, he checked with Ben Knox Miller to get his opinion. Ben said to give it some more. Jocie then chimed in and coined it “the underwater mix.” I like that.
Enough gushing. We felt honored to have The Low Anthem back in the studio.
Video: The Low Anthem – Boeing 737 (Live at Shirk Music + Sound)
Video: The Low Anthem – Love and Altar (Live at Shirk Music + Sound)