For every individual who listens to music, there is also that one “iffy” band. It could be a band that has released solid yet not spectacular albums, or has released a few great songs and a few mediocre songs; basically, it’s a band that has grabbed your attention but cannot seem to hold on to it. One band that has fit this description for me is Anberlin. Sure, their first two albums have some great tracks, but they also have contained tracks I could care less for. They’ve also been a band that couldn’t seem to figure what they wanted to sound like. Some tracks they would be very intense while other tracks were as poppy as can be. Because of this, Anberlin was a band that I was very lukewarm towards. Until I heard Cities. With their third album, the Florida quintet has shattered everything I used to think about the band. Produced by Aaron Sprinkle, Cities display a vast improvement in every aspect. The drums hit harder, the guitars sound tighter, and Stephen Christian’s vocals soar higher than every before. In other words, the overall sound of Anberlin is bigger than ever.
The first thing I immediately noticed was Nathan Young’s improved drumming. Whether it’s Sprinkle’s doing or just an improvement with age (or a combination of both), it is vastly better and adds so much to the overall sound of Anberlin. The musicianship from guitarist’s Joseph Milligan and Nathan Strayer and bassist Deon Rexroat is tighter than ever, adding more depth from what they played on 2005’s Never Take Friendship Personal. But most impressive of all is the improvement of Christian’s vocals. I don’t know how he did it, but his voice commands your full attention in each song, whether it’s his powerful or gentle delivery. When discussing the best voices in the scene, Stephen Christian HAS to be brought up. He is, in my opinion, the best singer currently in the scene.
Musically, the band eliminates almost all their pop sensibility while remaining immensely catchy. There aren’t any songs that’ll be so sugary that it’ll rot your teeth. Rather the album displays a moodier vibe throughout, as displayed in the “(Debut)” track. They also hit harder than ever before on the rip-roaring first single, “Godspeed,” as Young relentlessly pounds on the skins. The synth makes a few appearances on some tracks, adding another element to tracks like “Adelaide” (which is one of the catchiest choruses’ Anberlin has ever written) and “Reclusion,” an industrial rocker played at break-neck speed. “Hello Alone” features superb drumming again from Young and Milligan and Strayer guitars bring on an assault to your ears. “Alexithymia” begins slow and gentle, but the guitars on the outro needle in and out along with soothing background “ooohs.” “Dismantle Repair” is bound to be a fan favorite, as the band balances when to be loud and when to be quiet very well.
While a lot of the songs are high on adrenaline and are meant to played loud, there are still a handful of slower songs that Anberlin excel in. “The Unwinding Cable Car” is a beautiful track that shows how versatile Christian’s voice is, while “Inevitable” is the romantic ballad of the album, featuring the line “I want to be your last first kiss/for all time.” But the highlight of Cities comes in the form of the six and a half minute album closer, “(*Fin).” The acoustic guitar is mesmerizing as Christian calmly sings his passionate lyrics. But the song really reaches its peak when all the instruments kick in, along with a children’s choir, to give “Fin” an emphatic and epic ending. Not only is the best song Anberlin has written, but it is also one of the best songs you’ll hear in 2007.
To describe Cities as the maturation of Anberlin would be an incorrect assessment. They have always been mature; rather this is the progression of their sound. They have taken what they’ve produced on previous albums and taken it to the next level. Could this be the best album Tooth & Nail releases all year? Damn right, it could. Should major labels be knocking on Anberlin’s door after this release? Damn right, they should. Fans of the band will be knocked to the floor after hearing this, and Cities should be able to gain some new fans as well. It sure as hell converted me.