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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Ranking the albums of Anberlin

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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.

Anberlin to disband, release final album in 2014

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In shocking news, Florida rockers Anberlin have announced that the band will be breaking up in 2014 after releasing one final album (via Tooth & Nail Records) and embarking on a farewell tour. A video announcement from the band can be viewed below:

Anberlin came onto the scene in 2003 with their debut album Blueprints for the Black Market. Their career thus far has included six full length albums, including the 2007 classic Cities and their most recent release, Vital.

Regarded as one of the most talented and respected rock bands in the 2000s alternative rock scene, this comes as sad news to many. What are your thoughts? Tell us in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting on Anberlin’s debut album

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blueprints_coverLost 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.

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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.