I have an unusual relation with this band. Hailing from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, Anathallo are regulars of the Grand Rapids music scene (such as it is). Living in Grand Rapids I have had many opportunities to see Anathallo as, when they are not touring, they seem to be playing a show every few weeks. However I have only seen them live twice, a choice I am beginning to regret as their career gains momentum, drawing them farther and farther from GR. Perhaps people in this small city have begun to take them for granted because they always seem to be here. This is unfortunate because, simply put, Anathallo are one of the best live bands performing today.
When I say “best live band” I don’t simply mean in Michigan, or even the mid-west. Anathallo are one of the best live acts in the nation. Their shows are not flashy- no pyrotechnics or light displays- they are just seven young people playing with unbelievable passion and skill. Several members of the band are multi-instrumentalists and often switch instruments mid-song, giving their music an eclectic style and their performances a vital intensity. They are somewhat famous (locally, anyway) for their penchant for unorthodox percussion, including chains, pipes, and intricate stomping and clapping that utilizes every member of the band. This group mentality extends to the harmonies, which can create the startling effect of a rising wall of voices in the middle of a song.
Unfortunately such a fantastic live performance that depends so much on the personal interaction of the members is nearly impossible to transfer to a recording. Anathallo have released several records, which are all good, but do not capture the heights their music can reach on stage. With Floating World, their fifth release, Anathallo have come closer to capturing the passion of their live show than ever before.
I cannot be certain, but judging from the Japanese elements throughout the album I am guessing that the title references Ishiguro’s novel An Artist of the Floating World. If so, it is fitting in several respects. First, the “floating world” of Ishiguro’s novel refers to the night life in Japan, a world which exists only for that evening, perishes, and is recreated the next. This is an appropriate description of Anathallo’s performances, miniature worlds that are created throughout the evening and disappear along with the band. Secondly, “floating world” also refers to Japan at the time the novel takes place, in a flux between the traditional way of life and a more westernized, progressive mindset. This album also finds Anathallo in flux, poised to move from a local favorite to a breakthrough band.
I’m going to stop with the comparisons now because this is turning into a dissertation. The music Anathallo have recorded here is some of their best, shifting from delicate arpeggio guitar interwoven with powerful harmonies to a carnival mishmash of percussion and brass that calls to mind Tom Waits while maintaining a unique sound. Sadly this is a promo copy and doesn’t include the lyrics, which is a shame because they typically reflect the same passion found in the music. But if experience is anything to go by they have been just as carefully crafted as the music itself. Given all of these elements, Floating World finds Anathallo on the brink of receiving the nationwide attention they deserve.