It’s a harsh truth but sometimes beautiful things are fundamentally flawed. There is no denying that this, Anathallo’s second album of folk-pop with a hint of classical, is at times jaw droppingly stunning. Unfortunately, there is no skating around the fact that it is also frequently lacking.
On first impressions it would appear that there’s almost too much going on rather than there actually being anything missing. This seven strong ensemble from Mt Pleasant pile on instrumentation, vocal harmonies and chiming percussion until each track is practically bursting at the seams.
Noni’s Field gets the band off to a rampant start. Percussion is layered up to a stunning effect and the skittering beats are all very impressive, but it’s the perfect vocal harmonies of Matt Joynt and Erica Froman that steal the show. Brittle melodies float across the track as it flits about on a frequently shifting backdrop of piano and brass.
This opening salvo leads into the jaunty cosmopolitan jig that is Italo. Froman’s perky vocal interjections provide the perfect foil to Joynt’s Paul Heatonesque vocals. Clever time changes mean that you’re pressured into paying attention as the song draws towards the swelling conclusion of the song. Yet as the band builds the track up, they fade away leaving you hanging, needing release and finding nothing. Frustrating doesn’t quite cover it.
From here on things start to get a little pastoral. Songs begin to take on a linear form that is not always particularly pleasing. The strings that populate the likes of The River, or the impeccable vocals that drift in and out of these colliery soundscapes can be incredibly emotive, but the lack of anything to really get your teeth into means that you invariably feel lost. It’s like drowning in a sea of sequins as gold encrusted ducks plop Faberge eggs from the sky into the shiny abyss all around you. Yes it’s pretty, and shimmering and spectacular, but without something to hold on to, you’re pretty screwed.
Just before you succumb to the glittery depths, grab a lungful of the marvellously orchestrated Cafetorium which elaborates on a simple guitar riff and builds from there towards a parping, folk-pop, brass climax. It’s one of the finer songs on the album, and at a little over four minutes it never outstays its welcome.
Sleeping Torpor has its moments too. Most notably, the slightly disconcerting hushed whisper of Froman pitched against a distinctly sinister brass backing. Unfortunately the band fails to stick to their guns, and they meander off in various directions only to discover that each of them leads to a dead end.
This seems to be a feature of many of the songs on this album. Although there’s always something in each of them that grabs attention Anathallo constantly let the moment drift away as if scared to elaborate upon a flash of brilliance. The crashing chords and chants that elevate Lost Ring Finger are phenomenal, but quite what happens in the four minutes prior to them making an appearance is anyone’s guess. But their almost religious grandeur is gone almost as soon as they appear.
This is the flaw in Canopy Glow. There are numerous moments where the band makes you fall in love with their ideas, their vocals, and their wilfully clever compositions, but they seem to lack the capacity to really lose themselves in their own music. They are always holding back, always pulling back from the edge when they should soar towards the stratosphere waving their middle fingers and yelling “climb it Tarzan”.
There are some amazing moments on this record; it’s a crying shame that they’re linked with the sound of a band treading water.