Ranking the albums of Anberlin

anberlin

The recent news of Anberlin’s upcoming disbandment, following a final album release and subsequent tour, came as a shock to many. The Florida alt-rock band has not only been a staple of the scene for over a decade, but has had considerable crossover success. Even though their parting is unexpected and seems to come too soon, it’s an admirable feat for a band of such caliber to hang it up on their own terms.

Though the band is known for their passionate live performances, their eclectic nature and their earnest desire to connect with their fans, perhaps the most impressive thing about Anberlin is their stunning discography. Though there’s debate to be had over their best work, it’s hard to argue any Anberlin album as being dismissible.

At their best, the music of Anberlin was seminal and inspiring. Even in the weakest points of their catalogue, the band was still more prolific and imaginative that most bands in the scene. It seems appropriate as the band nears its end to reflect upon each release.

There’s plenty of room for debate about this list as there is no definitive answer for ranking the band’s albums. Nonetheless, the purpose of this piece is to give each release it’s due and try to determine the best of an incredible and impressive discography.

6. New Surrender

new_surrenderNew Surrender is often considered the weakest Anberlin record, but the reasons certainly have little to do with the quality of the songs themselves. The production (handled by Neal Avron) is stellar and the songs soar with big choruses and welling anthems. The biggest problem with New Surrender is a seeming lack of direction.

“The Resistence” kicks things off as one of the loudest and most aggressive tracks in the band’s catalogue, but immediately transitions into the poppy and gentle “Breaking”. The jarring persists throughout the affair, as the band struggles to find a groove or focus.

There’s no shortage of standout stand-alone songs on the album (“Feel Good Drag”, “Breathe), but it lacks a cohesiveness that appears through Anberlin’s discography. A rush into the studio after signing with Universal Republic certainly played a role, as did a myriad of label voices offering their opinion. Even so, the album was successful and the re-recorded “Feel Good Drag” vaulted Anberlin into the mainstream rock spotlight.

5. Blueprints for the Black Market 

blueprints_coverAnberlin’s debut is a furious one and showcases a young band on the brink of a breakout. Just try listening to opening number “Readyfuels” without getting a little bit amped up. Joseph Mulligan’s guitar work throughout the album is simply breathtaking and drives the songs forward.

There’s a certain “emo” feel to many of these songs, accompanied by Stephen Christian’s moody vocals and ambiguous lyrics. Has anyone actually figured out what “Cold War Transmissions” is about? Regardless, it adds to the album’s charm and keeps you coming back to find new clues and missed moments.

It’s clear when listening to Blueprints for the Black Market that the band was about to come into their own. Tracks like “Glass to the Arson” and “Naïve Orleans” are masterful in their own right and draw attention to the band’s songwriting abilities. Even today, the record holds its own quite well.

4. Dark is the Way, Light is a Place

Dark_Is_the_WayThe band recently described Dark is the Way as their “punk” record. While certainly not punk in sound, the album was a complete departure from their major label debut, New Surrender, and marked a noticeable shift from the band’s previous work. Dark is an alt rock record paying homage to the best parts of indie pop and 80s synth sounds.

Instead of being marked by standout radio singles, the album builds at a steady pace with dashes of excitement thrown in at opportune moments. The brooding chorus of “Closer” leaves you on the edge of your seat, while the haunting opening to “Art of War” sends a chill down your spine. The purpose of these songs is to create an atmosphere – and they do so quite well.

Dark is the Way, Light is a Place is self-indulgent in all of the right ways. It displays a side of the band that had never been shown and displays the band that is capable of writing far more than just rock songs. At times, you can almost forget that you’re listening to an Anberlin record, which is a testament to the band’s abilities as musicians.

3. Never Take Friendship Personal 

never_take_friendship_personalAnberlin’s second album hits hard, taking all of great moments of their debut and turning them to 11. Never Take Friendship Personal is, in concept, a record about relationships in all of their messy and confusing forms. It succeeds not only as a story of pain and redemption, but as the work of a band that’s hitting their stride.

Friendship features some of the best songs Anberlin has ever written – “Paperthin Hymn” is a high watermark, building upon every verse before crashing down during its triumphant chorus. “A Day Late” and “The Runaways” are perfect pop rock songs with just the right amount of bite. “Dance, Dance Christa Päffgen” is the first of many deep, brooding closing tracks and an absolute masterpiece.

If there was any doubt of Anberlin’s ability to craft emotional, purposeful cuts that maintained an accessibility and bounce, those doubts were squelched with the release of Never Take Friendship Personal. It’s hard to criticize anything about the album – from start to finish it’s an incredible picture of what Anberlin is all about.

2. Vital 

vitalVital may very well be the best representation of Anberlin in 2014. Obviously, it’s the band’s most recent release, but it’s an album that features a collection of all of the things that made the band special throughout the years. Stephen’s songwriting is just as evocative as ever and the backdrop is built of an array of moving parts that included synthesizers, keys and some of the band’s best guitar licks to date from Mulligan and Christian McAlhaney.

Whether it’s fiery, faced-paced tracks like “Self-Starter” and “Someone Anyone” or the slower, ominous feel of “Type 3” and “God, Drugs & Sex”, Vital has it all and manages to blend it effortlessly. Every song seems to fall right where it belongs, creating one of the most pleasant and exciting listens from front to back of any Anberlin album.

Everyone gets their chance to shine on Vital – Deon Rexroat’s bassline on “Desires” is fantastic while Nathan Young, always the baby of the group, has grown significantly and is able to push the songs full throttle where necessary and pull back at just the right moment. Vital is not only one of Anberlin’s best releases, but one of the best rock releases this decade.

1. Cities

citiesIt’s hard to argue Cities’ placement at the top of this list. The band’s third album is a triumph in every way and is an album that will be remembered and celebrated well after Anberlin’s upcoming disbandment. It’s no surprise that everyone seems to have a story to tell about Cities – the album is the story about all of us; a picture of community in all of its joys and pains.

The songs on Cities are often painful, longing for something greater from an array of perspectives. Yet amidst that pain, there’s a glimmer of hope – “A Whisper & A Clamor” pleads for a joyful clapping of hands while “The Unwinding Cable Car” offers its encouragement while it digs at our collective pain. The majestic closer, (*Fin)” is a whirlwind of a song, finding Christian calling out for hope.

Even darker moments like “Hello Alone” and “Alexithymia” hold their place well, weaving together the narrative. Each song has a purpose and excels individually while playing its part in the whole. Not only is it Anberlin’s best album, it’s one of the most complete and purposeful albums to come out of the scene.

Cities is an album that finds the storyteller taking a look within. In doing so, the band manages to tell the story of each one of us. To do it with such creative gusto and wonderful musicianship is simply icing on the cake.

***

The bad news is that Anberlin will be calling it quits in 2014. The good news is that they’re not done yet. Who knows – their seventh and final release may surpass all of its predecessors. Given the band’s track record, it’s sure to be a fantastic album and a proper farewell to an incredible band.

What are your thoughts on our list? Share your own rankings in the replies!

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

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Comments

  1. Very close to my list!

    7) Dark is the Way, Light is a Place
    6) New Surrender (I agree with pretty much everything you said–“no shortage of standout stand-alone songs on the album.”
    5) Lowborn
    4) Blueprints for the Black Market
    3) Never Take Friendship Personal
    2) Vital
    1) Cities

    Every album is very solid though.

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