Off Atlas / 2016
New Haven-based multi-instrumentalist Colin Meyer has had his hand in many projects over the years (most notably the 00's pop-rock outfit Ten Shekel Shirt) but his solo endeavor The Soldier Story is where his muse runs wild. Flowers for Anonymous is his third record under the moniker, the fruit of three years in his basement studio which saw him doing absolutely everything for the album from playing to mixing to cover art. While these sorts of DIY ultra-solo projects can have a stilted, airless quality to them, Flowers for Anonymous emphatically does not. This is a quality collection of precision-cut math rock and singer-songwriter tunes that oscillate between latter-day Pedro the Lion and The National after a dose of antidepressants.
Flowers for Anonymous is one of two maiden releases for Meyer's upstart label Off Atlas - the other is All a Shimmer, by label co-founder and frequent collaborator Jonny Rodgers, who performs as Cindertalk. Meyer handled percussion on Rodgers' soundtrack for the recent Bono/Eugene Peterson doc, and his deft sense of rhythm is what stands out immediately on Flowers for Anonymous - the opening track, "Artifacts of an Abandoned", is a captivating, chaotic whirlwind of syncopation.
The song seems to be for a jilted spouse - Meyer sings about how "he took the last glimpse of light from you" before offering comfort in the reality that, "there's still a sound/there's still a soul/in your bones". The record is full of cuts like this, written for (as Meyer puts it, referencing the album title) "the unloved, the forgotten, or the abandoned. The flowers aren't necessarily from me, and they're not for an individual, but for the nameless or the anonymous."
On "Talk With Our Eyes", the nameless addressee is society as a whole, and Meyer anxiously laments the loss of our universal mother tongue - body language - in the modern age. The Soldier Story's lyrics have grown less frilly with every release thus far, but it's hard to imagine them getting any more direct than the song's first line: "Everyone is staring at the screens in their hands".
Elsewhere, Flowers for Anonymous' focus is more intimate - "Life is Short" is like a tender note to loved ones scrawled by a man in some great peril ("Before I go/I'm telling you everything you should know"), and a pair of other songs explore romantic love. "Right Here" is an uncomplicated love song, while "We Were Lovers in the Garden" meditates on the broken imago dei in man and woman, mourning for the paradise that's been lost.
Meyer's oaky voice and evocative delivery make these low-key singer-songwriter tracks more than worthwhile, but by and large they don't have the same staying power as the complex, angular slabs of math rock (like the aforementioned "Artifacts of an Abandoned") that dominate the other half of the album. The closing stretch of "Constant Crisis", where Meyer creates a dizzying tangle of tones by piling guitar on guitar on guitar, is another standout in this vein, but the high point of the whole record is the fantastic "Drifting Apart".
Here, Meyer traces the disintegration of a friend's faith, remembering someone hungry for grace ("Broken heart, but you were so complete") before lamenting, "But I've watched you slowly undress/Every garment of white you wore". The song's raw guitar, bass, and drums run parallel and yet remain untethered, shifting and corkscrewing around one other as Meyer slowly twists the sonic kaleidoscope. And should he be accused of sitting in judgement, he ends with a sad and bitter disclaimer: "I'm not casting stones/I am grieving you". Not all the "flowers" on Flowers for Anonymous are gifts of consolation - this is more like one you'd place on a casket as it's being lowered into the ground.