“Anathallo,” as a band name, has an unmistakable “Go ahead, ask me the meaning of our band name” quality about it. If Wikipedia is to be believed, “Anathallo” is derived from a Greek word meaning “to renew, refresh, or bloom.” And while that last sentence makes this review sound like a book report, it’s worth knowing the meaning of Anathallo’s name, if only for the sheer irony of it (now on to the etymology of “irony”…).
Don’t be mistaken: Anathallo’s Canopy Glow, the second album from the seven-piece Chicago collective, is an unfailingly pretty album. It suits the recent change of seasons quite nicely, actually. What makes Anathallo’s name so incongruous is the fact that Canopy Glow is hardly a renewal: it’s a retread.
Now obviously, not every album need be a front to back re-imagining of music’s past and future. Everyone enjoys at least a band or two that are distinctly unoriginal, but Anathallo makes it so damn easy to spot their influences that Canopy Glow could very well double as a 21st century Indie-rock trivia game. See who can name the most readily apparent influence first.
Perhaps that’s too harsh, especially for an album that, as I stated above, is never difficult to listen to and is frequently impressively arranged, but it’s simply not enough to show that you can mimic your elders. “Northern Lights” languid, nocturnal mood will be familiar to anyone who has spent a lot of time with Yo La Tengo’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. The outro to the New Pornographers “The Bleeding Heart Show” is all but outright stolen at the end of “The River.” Generally speaking though, Canopy Glow will remind you of Sufjan Stevens. Often.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Honestly, given how elaborate Sufjan Stevens’ arrangements are, I would be impressed if someone were able to pull off a decent cover of “Come On, Feel the Illinoise” or “Chicago.” In fact, a great deal of the charm of Canopy Glow comes purely from ideas and arrangements that were novel when Sufjan Stevens first tried them on Michigan and later perfected them on Illinoise.
All of the familiar tools in Sufjan Stevens’ arsenal are utilized frequently: the hushed, eerily calm male vocals (singer Matt Joynt sounds like a more tranquil Carl Newman), complimented by a harmonizing female, which are then interrupted by a series of overlapping choirs, the dramatic brass and strings. There’s even what appears to be an homage to Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians (the unsurprisingly named “Bells”), an album frequently invoked as an influence upon Stevens. To their credit, Anathallo do stop short of making Canopy Glow about any one particular state in the union.
If you’ve never heard any music by any of the bands from which Anathallo so liberally borrow (and admittedly, sadly, many have not), then Canopy Glow could serve as a gateway to many worthwhile acts. Its entirely possible that Anathallo’s mission was to make something akin to a synthesis of the last ten years of indie rock. If that’s the case, then Canopy Glow is a resounding success. After all, there’s plenty worth celebrating, but Anathallo would do better to honor the bands from which they crib (The National, Architecture In Helsinki, Arcade Fire, the list really does go on), by at the very least suggesting new places that indie rock can go. As it stands, Anathallo are so doggedly and consistently competent that it’s a shame to think about what could have been.