Lost in the shuffle of a parade of 10-year anniversaries that have hit the pop-punk/emo scene in 2013 is an album that rarely gets mentioned, but surely deserves reflection. Anberlin’s Blueprints for the Black Market is not their defining album, nor is it generally considered a classic in this scene. It is, however, a stellar debut and an album that holds up extremely well a decade later. It truly is a diamond in the rough.
So why does no one talk about it? We recently did our first podcast for this website on albums that turned 10 this year and I completely forgot to mention it during the recording. Blueprints for the Black Market may have been my favorite album of the year in 2003, yet I sometimes still forget how good it is. At least until I put it on.
Unfortunately for Blueprints, Anberlin went on to create at least two classic and revered albums (Cities and Vital, although some include Never Take Friendship Personal in this conversation as well) that overshadowed their early work and helped them stake their claim in the scene. Even their most lackluster album, New Surrender, featured their breakout radio single “Feel Good Drag”.
When people have conversations about Anberlin, these are the talking points – and rightly so. However, for a band that has developed such a following and has proved itself to be a reliable and respectable act, it seems unwise to not remember their roots. Blueprints for the Black Market is an absolutely incredible debut album and is truly a worthy release in its own right.
In what would be the first of several albums recorded with Aaron Sprinkle, Anberlin wrote some of their most aggressive work. It’s certainly true that the unique vocal style of Stephen Christian is what drew many people into the band to begin with, but the guitar work of a young Joseph Milligan can’t be emphasized enough. Milligan’s work alone makes this album feel like a band hitting their prime as opposed to just breaking out of the gate.
Take the first track, “Readyfuels”, as an example. In what is one of the best opening songs in the band’s catalogue, Bruce shreds the bridge to pieces – just watch his fingers during a close-up shot in the song’s abysmal music video. Accompany the music with Christian’s urgent vocal delivery, and Blueprints opens with a bang.
Although this is the track most people point to during discussions about this album, songs like the forceful “Glass to the Arson” and the pleading “Change the World (Lost Ones)” make this album special. There’s a certain emo tinge to many of these tracks – a little more edge, a little grittier – that separate them from the rest of the band’s catalogue. Though many may comment that they perfected this sound on Friendship, I might argue that they merely shifted their direction.
Even the missed notes, like the goofy “Foreign Language” and out-of-place-poppy “Autobahn”, serve their own purpose in easing up on the gas pedal. But alas, this album is not so much the sum of its parts as it is celebrating the individual parts that make it. It ebbs and flows and by the time you hear the haunting drum outro of “Naïve Orleans” echo away, you feel you’ve truly experienced something special.
I remember walking in the snow across my college campus listening to this album in my headphones. It provided a therapeutic comfort during those confusing and sometimes aimless days. Christian’s cryptic lyrics kept me searching and certainly made me look for something deeper when I reached for new music. The aggressive sound of the album pushed me in the direction of bands like Dead Poetic and Underoath, opening a completely new realm of sound.
Cities will likely be remembered as Anberlin’s defining album, and I certainly won’t argue against that here. The truth is, the band’s collection is filled with solid work, all of which deserve to be cherished in its own way. If it’s been a while since you’ve thrown on Blueprints for the Black Market, take another listen. It’s likely that you’ll still remember the songs, but you may be surprised at how good they sound all these years later.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.