Reflecting On: Anberlin – Dark is the Way, Light is a Place

There’s something existentially beautiful about those rare, unpredictable moments when an album or a song arrives in your life at exactly the right time. Music is a universal language, and it makes sense that it would impact us in these ways throughout our lives. It’s weird and random, but profoundly deep. It also tends to weaken our objectivity.

I say this because I believe Dark is the Way, Light is a Place is the best of Anberlin’s seven studio albums. You should probably take my opinion on this matter with a grain of salt, because it arrived in my life at the perfect time for me to end up feeling this way. And while I know this about myself, it doesn’t change how strongly I feel about this opinion.

You can buy or stream Dark is the Way, Light is a Place on Apple Music.

It should also be said that Anberlin never released a weak album, something that elevates their stature as modern day rock legends. It’s easy to hear arguments for albums like Cities, Never Take Friendship Personal, and Vital and feel swayed. There isn’t really a wrong answer, but I’m often surprised at how little I hear the argument made for Dark is the Way.

I think the reason is found in the band’s own admission about the creation of the album itself. Leading up to the release, they described it as their “punk” album – not in genre, but in concept. Dark is the Way is Anberlin’s Kid A. It’s their Yeezus. There are elements found here that were further explored on Vital and Lowborn, but by and large, there is no direct sonic comparison to be made with any of their other work.

Coming on the heels of the band’s mainstream breakout with New Surrender, they entered the studio with Brendon O’Brien, a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Pearl Jam. It’s the kind of opportunity that strikes when you’re on a major label and just had one of the biggest rock records in recent memory (“Feel Good Drag”). 

Anberlin didn’t necessarily take it as an opportunity to make an even bigger single or strike gold again. They took it as a chance to explore parts of themselves that they couldn’t under any other circumstance. It was the right move. Dark is the Way is not littered with “hits,” but it features some of the band’s best songwriting and still feels like a daring attempt to make something that would change the way people talked about the band.

From the loud, fuzzy intro of “We Owe This to Ourselves” to the dark, brooding “Closer” to percussion-powered “Pray Tell”, the album features endless moments of exploration and experimentation. But it does so while sounding like the band had been writing this way all along. Stephen Christian’s vocals soar in new ways on the chorus of “You Belong Here” and sounds angrier than ever on “To the Wolves”. Each track feels distinct without ever jumping off the rails.

The summer of 2010 was unquestionably the worst of my life. By the time September rolled around, it felt like months of emotional turmoil had finally begun to subside, ever so slightly. I was ready to pick up the pieces of my life and move forward. Dark is the Way, Light is the Place happened to be the exact thematic therapy I needed.

I still can’t listen to “The Art of War” or “Down” without shedding tears. I can’t experience this album without feeling everything I was feeling at that moment of my life. I felt alone, and Dark is the Way felt like a companion because it seemed to understand and articulate everything I was feeling. There are only a handful of albums that do that in one lifetime, and this one may be near the top for me.

Shortly after the album’s release, I made the bold move of reaching out to Stephen Christian via social media, sharing my story with him, expecting no response. I’ll never forget my feeling of shock when he replied. Or the comfort in the kind words he offered. I’ll never forget how the experience of everything this album made me feel gave me the courage to start writing again. And how that led to opportunity which led to the creation of this very website.

So I’m biased. And I’m fine with that. I do believe that Dark is the Way, Light is a Place, and everything it encompasses, stands as Anberlin’s finest hour. But even if it’s not, it will always mean more to me than I’m able to put into words. And I love that feeling.

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Anchor & Braille – TENSION

Back in 2014, Anberlin, one of alternative’s most exceptional bands, hung up their guitars and drumsticks. Stephen Christian has some of the most easily-identifiable vocals of the past two decades, and the idea that he wasn’t going to serenade us anymore was a thought I almost couldn’t bear. He hadn’t released anything from his side project, Anchor and Braille, since 2012, and we would have to wait another two years after Anberlin’s end for a new taste of what Stephen had to offer. 

You can buy or stream TENSION on Apple Music.

Fast forward to today, another four years later, and we finally have TENSION. Following in the footsteps of 2016’s Songs for the Late Night Drive Home, TENSION is another pop album. Synthy, 80’s-inspired, romantic – what else could we ask for?

This album is clearly dedicated to Stephen’s wife Julia, as he sings in the first single, “DANGEROUS”. While that could turn some people off, I think it’s cute. It’s sickly sweet, like eating your entire box of candy during the movie previews and having that weird feeling in your stomach for the rest of the two hours, but no one can deny that the honesty is characteristic of an Anchor and Braille album.

Personally, I prefer Songs for the Late Night Drive Home. I feel like that’s because I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of pop music, and TENSION throws us a much lighter vibe. It’s a worthy addition to the Anchor and Braille oeuvre, but it definitely is the beginning of a shift in Stephen Christian’s sound. It’s enjoyable and sure to be a summer drive album, but it doesn’t have the same hard hitting lyrics that Late Night Drive gave us. My favorite track is “Closer and Farther”, which is undeniably the closest we get to a Late Night Drive B-side.

I will always gobble up anything Stephen Christian serves us, but TENSION is very monotonous. It never ends up taking us on the journey that Stephen’s art is so known for. The highs and lows of Felt, and the emotions of Late Night Drive, that we’ve grown to love and expect from Anchor and Braille are missing here.

3.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Most Anticipated Music of 2020: Another Dose of Anchor & Braille

It’s been a very long time since we’ve heard anything new from Stephen Christian’s side project Anchor and Braille. The past three albums from the band are the other side of Stephen’s musical coin. In Anberlin we have the heavy-hitting rock, but with Anchor & Braille we have a softer, sultrier, synth-ier side. They’ve released three albums since 2009, and 2016’s Songs for the Late Night Drive Home has been a staple for me. I’ll admit I’m ready for something new.

We first got an inkling some things were moving around when Stephen posted on the Anchor & Braille Instagram for the first time since May of 2018. He then posted three consecutive photos with the distinctive Anchor & Braille use of the French language, as well as something that said “Frank Ocean” and a photo of the record deal. Stephen stated in his podcast, The Art Collective that he’d like to make another album with Aaron Marsh, which leads me to theorize a return to Tooth and Nail à la Copeland?

Whether it’s an EP, an album or a film, I’m excited to see Stephen Christian come back into the music world. Seeing Anberlin play live again was a dream come true and renewed my faith that we would hear new music from the guys again. Even though it might not be Anberlin-proper, and that may be something we never get, I’m so looking forward to new music from my all-time favorite side project.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Is This Goodbye (Again)? A Night with Anberlin in Boston

You might’ve done a double take when reading the title of this piece. Anberlin? In 2019? It’s more likely than you think. After a couple of acoustic shows in their homestate of Florida, they announced an Australian tour, then eventually, the much-anticipated U.S. tour we’d all been hoping for.

The first time I saw Anberlin was actually the last time, too. I went to the Boston date of the Final Tour back in 2014. It was the first show I was able to go to without any kind of adult supervision, and I had crappy seats in the House of Blues balcony. It was still one of the best nights of my life and I cherished the fact that, finally, I had seen Anberlin. They’re arguably the most influential band in terms of my musical taste, and I’d say that there’s not one song of theirs I won’t listen to. So obviously, when the tickets went on sale, I was first in line.

Anberlin chose I the Mighty as their supporting band. I’d heard of them but never got around to listening to any of their music. They’re signed to Equal Vision, my favorite label, so I was interested to finally hear what they had to offer. They played a good selection of tracks from their three studio albums, and are talented at the prog-rock they aim to create. They played a great set and aside from some cheesy stage antics, I’d say Anberlin made a good decision.

Despite the great set from the opener, I feel like everyone was too busy waiting for the main event to really pay much attention to them. I almost feel like they didn’t need an opener, but that’s mostly because I’m selfish and wanted six more Anberlin songs. Upon taking the stage, they opened with “Godspeed” from Cities. From there on, the room was totally enthralled with their 21 song set.

Stephen cut the set in half with “Down” from Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place, and took the opportunity to talk about Children International, which calls on people to sponsor third world children’s needs. The mellow track and call to action didn’t take away from the energy at all, and they continued the next hour of their set with “(The Symphony of) Blase”. They played all the fan favorites (a.k.a. literally any one of their songs) and ended the evening with, of course, “(*Fin)”.

I don’t know what the future holds for Anberlin, and clearly, neither do they. They seem okay with this run of shows being their real final tour. As much as I love Anberlin and have missed them every day since they announced their end, I think I might be okay with it, too. That’s borderline blasphemous, I know, but the members seem to be doing well post-band. They’ve moved on to other side projects, or simply went home to be with their family. I believe they made the right choice in calling it when they did. It made this brief return all the more sweet.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Reflecting On: Anberlin – New Surrender

“When I was 13 / I had my first love / There was nobody that compares to my baby / And nobody came between us / No one could ever come above”.

What does Ludacris’ verse on Justin Bieber’s critically acclaimed single “Baby” have to do with Anberlin? If you’re like me: Everything.

You can buy or stream New Surrender on Apple Music.

When I was 13, I thought I knew everything there was to know about music. I thought Tooth and Nail was the best record label. I was trying to come into my own personality. In reality, I was just pretentious and nobody wanted to listen to the cool music I found because of my attitude. The biggest band for me during that time period was Anberlin. They opened the door to the rest of the alt rock world and still continue to blow me away today.

When I found them, I was listening to my favorite internet station, RadioU. The band’s cover of New Order’s “True Faith” was playing and I was obsessed with the guitar riff. I know, weird to get into a band via a song that’s not even theirs. If you actually listen to the track, though, (you’ll have to do so on YouTube, as it’s no longer on Spotify), it sounds authentically Anberlin. It took me a while to find out who it was (it being the radio and all), but once I did, there was no turning back. I became a fan of Anberlin—a Fanberlin, if you will.

All of this brings me to their 2008 release, New Surrender. The album is criminally underrated. It came a mere year after what many claim is their greatest achievement, Cities. It can be tempting to write off the album that comes after a band’s best, and oftentimes, you’d be correct to do that. But with New Surrender, I think you’d be wrong to.

I’ll admit that the album isn’t Anberlin’s strongest. It came in a tumultuous period in the band’s history. They’d just signed to a major label and released the best album of their career. It’s hard to put your best foot forward as that kind of pressure mounts. So the band gave it a shot. New Surrender isn’t hard-hitting like Cities was, and it’s not quite as melodically pleasing like Never Take Friendship Personal. The album, though, has some of the most meaningful lyrics Anberlin has to offer. From the emotional and mildly petty “Breaking” to the thematically heavy “Soft Skeletons”, the band really gave something for everyone.

Here is an overview of some of my favorite tracks:

“Breaking”, simply because it’s a classic. There’s no Anberlin without “Breaking”. If you disagree, you can come fight me. You know I’m right.

“Burn Out Brighter (Northern Lights)” because of the story. The song was written because of an episode of plane turbulence and basically reckoning with the fact that it could all be over in a second, making the most of what we have and the time we have to enjoy it.

“Younglife” has a special meaning for me lately in a way it hasn’t previously. I used to think fondly of high school and hanging out with my friends and messing around, like in the first verse. But as I think about my upcoming marriage, I think about the second verse: “Hey lover / Do you remember when / We used to dance in our apartment ‘till neighbors would knock on our door / And I remember / Do you remember when / We had no money to speak of / Nowhere else to eat but your floor / I wanna do it again”.

“Haight St.” has that same kind of connotation for me. It’s a fun track and one of the band’s more upbeat offerings, so there’s that for a stylistic approach. The whole album just holds this intense nostalgia as I’m looking back at my younger days. Old enough to know, too young to care.

So I don’t know if this has been so much of a reflection as it has been a, “Hey this album is still very relevant!” That’s what makes New Surrender timeless. It brought me through high school and the weird turbulence that is adolescence and now it’s here to remind me of the little things like building my first dining room table. It’s a picture of how to hone in on the finer points of life.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Podcast: The Best of Anberlin

Later this month, New Surrender turns 10 years old. Kiel Hauck and Nadia Paiva took the album’s anniversary as an opportunity to discuss Anberlin’s legacy and the impact of their major label debut. They break down Anberlin’s discography, rank their favorite songs, and share some of their favorite memories of one of the most influential and underrated bands in the history of the scene. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What is your favorite Anberlin album? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Anberlin – Cities

anberlin_photo_2007

While Cities is widely regarded as Anberlin’s best album, the argument can be made that it never fully received its due. However, it’s quite possible that both the band and its fans would have suffered if it had.

Leading up to 2007, the Florida rock act had quickly ascended the ranks, becoming one of the most revered bands in the scene. Anberlin spent their first two albums, Blueprints for the Black Market and Never Take Friendship Personal, honing their sound and bridging the gap between the popular emo leanings of the time and full-on alt-rock. By the time Cities dropped, it was clear that Anberlin had carved their own niche.

You can buy Cities on iTunes.

You can buy Cities on iTunes.

Cities can’t quite be classified as a concept album, but is certainly far more than a collection of songs. The album’s tracks are intertwined by themes of pain and frustration – an acknowledgement of the depravity that affects every community and relationship. Yet amidst the brokenness lies a will to continue the search for hope.

Not only was Cities a deep thematic success, the album showcased a band that had refined its sound to perfection. Underneath the album’s crisp production lied evidence that Anberlin had become a new leader in the genre, no longer following in the footsteps of others. Even 10 years later, Cities sounds unique for its time. If it were released today, it would still sound just as fresh and compelling.

However, just a few short months after its release, and before fans could fully digest the record, the band announced some shocking news. Having completed their contract with indie label Tooth and Nail Records, the band had been courted and signed by Universal Republic and would return to the studio to begin crafting their major label debut.

Although both the promotional and touring cycles for Cities were cut short, fan excitement for the band heightened. Soon, rumors spread that Universal Republic might re-release Cities to a wider audience or that the band might even re-record the album with new guitarist Christian McAlhaney now in their ranks. The events that followed are almost stranger than fiction, but somehow elevated the band to heights that no one expected.

There would be no major label lionizing of Cities. Instead, Anberlin released “Feel Good Drag” in the summer of 2008 as the lead single for New Surrender. The re-recorded song from 2005’s Never Take Friendship Personal left fans befuddled, as did the rushed writing and recording of the new album itself. Before Cities had even cooled off, the album had seemingly been replaced with what many perceived to be an inferior product.

However, “Feel Good Drag” became an unlikely breakthrough hit. During its 29-week climb to the top of Billboard’s Modern Rock Chart, the track became a record-breaker, spending more time on the chart en route to #1 than any other single in history. Suddenly a staple on rock radio and MTV, the band were booking large headlining tours, playing bigger venues, and attracting a massive new audience.

From a fan perspective, New Surrender received flack upon its release for feeling cluttered and uneven. While certainly not without its standout tracks, the album seemed to lack sonic direction, but also suffered from being quickly released on the heels of the band’s masterpiece.

In hindsight, there’s no denying that Anberlin’s major label signing and the sudden unexpected success of “Feel Good Drag” overshadowed what the band had accomplished with Cities, but it also changed the lives and careers of the band’s members. Without those events, would the band have been able to experiment to such critical success with 2010’s Dark is the Way, Light is a Place, return to their aggressive roots with 2012’s highly lauded Vital, or been able to exit on their own terms with 2014’s Lowborn?

Without the perceived slight that Cities received in 2007, the conversation surrounding one of the scene’s most successful and respected bands might be much different. Now, a decade later, we can talk about the album with full knowledge that Anberlin achieved a great deal over the course of their 16 year run, and that later albums like Dark is the Way and Vital even rival what the band accomplished with Cities.

Over the course of seven solid studio albums, it is my opinion that Cities is Anberlin’s most cohesive, focused and exemplary release. It features the band’s best song (“Dismantle. Repair.”), the most powerful album closer I’ve ever heard (“*Fin”), and best represents the band’s sound and purpose. However, if the short cycle of Cities meant the extended career and expanded audience of one of my favorite bands, who am I to complain?

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.

Read a Comprehensive History of Anberlin

anberlin_new

Think you know everything about Anberlin? Think again. Matt Metzler has compiled an unauthorized comprehensive history of Anberlin, spanning across the band’s career. His site, AnberlinForever.com, features interviews, band stories, photos, old video footage and much more. Take a look around the site – if you’re a fan of the band, you’re not going to want to miss this.

What are some of your favorite Anberlin memories? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Anberlin – Lowborn

anberlin_new

Goodbyes are never easy, but having a little prior notice certainly makes the event a touch more palatable. For Florida alternative rock powerhouse Anberlin, goodbye comes in the form of one final album – Lowborn – a fitting farewell in nearly every capacity.

Truthfully, it takes a lot of guts to go out this way. For a band with one of the most solid front-to-back discographies of the past decade, there’s a bit of a risk of tarnishing the band’s legacy with a faulty final step. Then again, Anberlin has never been known to disappoint.

The band returned to their original home at Tooth and Nail Records to release their final record, and hit the studio with their self-proclaimed dream team of Aaron Marsh, Matt Goldman and Aaron Sprinkle to record in a creative, pressure-free environment. The resulting product is not only a solid album in its own right, but also serves as an honest depiction of the band as they truly are in 2014.

Throughout Lowborn, Anberlin sidestep many of their own conventions, slighting stark tempo and atmospheric changes between tracks in favor of a slow burn. Lowborn’s songs seem to brood from one to the next, creating a steady swell that keeps you on your toes. Yes, “We Are Destroyer” serves as a combative opener and “Dissenter” refuses to fit within the album’s gentle flow, but as a whole, this might be the most concise and moody album in the band’s discography.

Lowborn finds Anberlin finally chasing a synthpop/alt-rock blend head-on throughout most of the record, sounding more like late-80’s New Order or Depeche Mode than a band you’d find on Warped Tour. The band has dabbled successfully in this sound before on their 2010 album Dark is the Way, Light is the Place, but this 2014 version is a more fully-realized effort.

“Armageddon” lays down grooving synthesizers and bass that flow subtly underneath vocalist Stephen Christian’s haunting lower register. Single “Stranger Ways” starts slow as well, but picks up pace behind Nate Young’s drums to push the song to a breathtaking crescendo at the end of the song’s second verse. Meanwhile, the synthesizers and guitars find their perfect blend on “Atonement”, allowing Christian to carry the song over the top during a chorus of, “Don’t want to be here / Don’t want to be here without you / I need to know you / I need to know you believe in me”.

Thematically, Lowborn is all about brevity, and fittingly, goodbyes. Even without any backstory, you get the uncomfortable urge to grasp at an unknown, fleeting moment. Throughout their history, Anberlin has had a knack for conveying story and emotion throughout the course of an album – the same stands true here. Lowborn moves patiently and darkly, remorseful of its own end while still managing to capture hope and reflection inside of the songs’ often surprising melodies.

So where does Lowborn fall within Anberlin’s superb discography? Its lack of oomph and diversity keep it from landing alongside Cities or Vital as the band’s best work, but it’s undoubtedly a more mature album than early releases like Blueprints for the Black Market or Never Take Friendship Personal. Instead, Lowborn fits well alongside Dark is the Way as an expression of the band’s obvious 80’s influences and ability to branch far beyond the typical alt-rock boundaries. That is to say, it’s a damn good album.

It’s hard to imagine the rock scene of the past decade without Anberlin. The band not only sparked a fire in the early-aughts post-punk landscape, but also managed a number one single on rock radio and became a nationally recognized name associated with intelligent and thoughtful, but aggressive rock. Their final lineup of Christian, Young, guitarists Joseph Milligan and Christian McAlhaney, and bassist Deon Rexroat has been one of the most formidable and talented lineups in recent memory.

Anberlin will truly be hard to replace. But then again, maybe we don’t have to. With seven solid albums released over the course of 11 years, the band left behind more than a few memories to carry on. Bookending that list is Lowborn, a proper and commendable final chapter.

4/5

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.

Anberlin stream new album “Lowborn” on Pandora

anberlin_new

Anberlin’s new album Lowborn, which releases on July 22 on Tooth and Nail Records, is now streaming in its entirety on Pandora. Lowborn will be the final release from the band, as they are hanging it up after a world tour that wraps up late this year.

What are your thoughts on the new album? Where does it rank amongst Anberlin’s collection? Let us know in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck