This prison press
Must hold inside
My printed mess
When fears intrude
And frees the message
while I hide
This prison press
Must hold inside
My printed mess
When fears intrude
And frees the message
while I hide
— Anberlin, “Depraved”
I don’t understand how people can stare at their phones with that dull, dead look in their eyes for hours at a time. If I catch myself doing that for more than sixty seconds, I stop immediately. I can’t stand purposeless disenjoyment.
Some people don’t have a beautiful world unfolding around them, and still enjoy it more than you.
I use Spotify, because I can’t afford to buy six albums a month anymore. It’s awesome, don’t get me wrong, but I often miss the old way of experiencing music. I think music was better when it cost more. Not just in terms of price, but also in weight, storage, and commitment. I have a love-hate relationship with digital. Whether in film, music, or books, digital is easier, cheaper, more accessible, and “opens more doors.” And that’s true. But I see very little to convince me it’s made content better. Notice how nine out of ten current top songs are all the same? They start out ok, and you’re like, hey, this isn’t bad, who’s this? And then comes the syllable skip. You know the syllable skip. When the singer says something like “and we’re gonna live forever – forever – forev – ev – ev –EV – EV – EV – EVEVEVEVEVEVEVEV—” And right then comes the “drop” as kids are calling it. When everything musical about the song disappears and all we hear is tsum-wAAAh tsum-wAAAh tsum-wAAAh dum-chAAAh dum-chAAAh dum-chAAAh. Even great bands like Coldplay and OneRepublic are putting this tsum-wAAAh tsum-wAAAh dum-chAAAh dum-chAAAh crap into their songs. What is that? Nearly every song on the home page of Spotify is like that, yet I still find myself going there to discover new music, for some reason, when none of it is as good as half the CDs I have in storage.
Anyway. A more relevant quirk about Spotify that I dislike is that the “Gapless Playback” isn’t entirely gapless between “(Debut)” and “Godspeed” the sister opening tracks of Anberlin’s Cities. They’re really one song, but it’s such an awesome song that it needs two tracks.
It’s pretty easily said that Cities was Anberlin’s most spiritual album at it’s release. The band themselves felt that it was lyrically a step of maturation. ”[Blueprints] was childish in the fact that it was Man vs. World … [Friendship] was Man vs. Man. Cities, however, is Man vs. Self.” Several songs are full of introspection, bringing alone self-doubt, loneliness, cynicism, even self-loathing. Things I myself was beginning to become familiar with.
The most notable number on the record, without a doubt, is the epic (before that word meant nothing) “(*Fin)”. Stephen’s heart bleeds into every song on this album. On this track, it explodes. I used to listen to the final ninety seconds over and over again, trying to decipher the poetry of the distant, hidden lyrics. The line that stuck with me the best was this: “We’re not questioning God, just those he chose to carry on his cross.” This song marked the beginning of my realization that doubting my faith, questioning my teaching, criticizing my beliefs, wasn’t poisonous, but essential to my growth.
This album taught me that, when I’m confused, I’m not alone. When I’m alone, I’m not lost. And when I’m lost, I’m not forgotten.
Other songs that I still keep close:
“The Unwinding Cable Car” when I doubt my own abilities.
“Alexithymia” because that’s one of my favourite words, and it’s a beautiful anthem for living.
“Dismantle. Repair.” because things are gonna change for the better.
It’s probable that Anberlin’s discography could alternately be titled Toxic Relationships (and How to Get Out of Them). If it wasn’t obvious by the title, this album is quite heavy on that subject. All but two songs are about a relationship. Only one or two of those is particularly positive and only one isn’t clearly about a girl. Thus on the surface it would seem just another “love sucks”, pop-punk record, but Anberlin always seems to infuse the most negative of lyrical narratives with a strong dose of hope.
I’m always tempted to call this my least favourite Anberlin record, but when I actually go back and listen, it’s hard to justify that. It’s they’re most fun album to date. It’s cute and pop-y. But it also has a voluminous helping of angsty, explosive rock and a drop of what is arguably the most depressing song they’ve ever written (“(The Symphony of) Blasé”). And it all blends together in a perfect whole.
I remember listening to this album for the first time in a Whole Foods parking lot. Every payday, the family would take a trip to Fresno and go shopping, and having just bought the record, I opted to hang out in the car while Mom bought groceries and popped it into my portable CD player. It was like hearing all the potential hinted at in Blueprints exploding forth with greater confidence. It’s awesome.
There isn’t much deeply rooted sentimentality associated with this album for me, but it’s still fun to reminisce with. This album is road trips to the beach and nerf guns and home movies and bike treks through cotton fields and trespassing on houses being built.
“The Feel Good Drag” will probably always be my favourite off this record. The New Surrender version (attached above because it’s the one with a video) is great (more on that later), but it can’t replace the original for me. I love it when Stephen screams. My brother and I made a movie years ago about a pig named Paco Hernandez who was a spy assassin. This was his theme song.
Others I love:
"Time & Confusion" because it reminds me of my family.
"Audrey, Start the Revolution" because it reminds me of Les Miserables and West Side Story.
"Dance, Dance, Christa Päffgen" because the groove is sick and never gets old.
I was thirteen, homeschooled and incredibly sheltered when I discovered Anberlin with the rest of the Christian rock world. I was sitting in my parents’ living room, probably folding underwear, which seemed to be all I did in those days, when the video for their debut single “Readyfuels” had it’s world premiere on TVU, the Christian alternative music video station that my brother and I would drink from liberally when we could take no more of the Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, and Arthur (well, okay, we loved Arthur) that dominated the tube at all other times.
A spinning firework pops up on the screen like a Windows screensaver and the opening guitar riff sounds off with a smooth, but firm energy and right as the drums kick in with bullet precision, we see five guys completely lost in something electric. They look young, but play like they’ve been doing it forever. The lead’s hair looks like he just got out of the shower, he’s wearinga t-shirt with a huge mouth on it (what does that mean?), and he’s singing with a piercingly distinctive voice
We’re runnin’ hot tonight, and it feels so good
I hadn’t seen or heard anything like it. Pure energy. And not meaningless, wailing about energy, but real, raw, focused energy. Watching it now, I’m struck with how… young the whole thing feels. And the great thing to me about this band is that, as they’ve matured throughout the years, both in their music and as people, they’ve still managed to stay young. Through the many seasons of change, they’ve never truly lost their way. They’ve never changed. And that’s why, in a way, I’m glad they’re leaving like this. This way, they’ll always be young, honest, rock-your-face-off Anberlin. But I digress.
Every Christmas, my brother and I used to buy each other two CDs. And we would always know exactly what they were. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure all we really ever spent our allowance on was music. And what else? It was the only essential to our life of full-time dreaming that our parents wouldn’t buy for us. Before iTunes, before the sanctity of an experience tied to a song on a physical disc with printed art on it, a star in an ever-lit constellation of a discography, was numbed into a perpetual, meaningless background noise, those 6”x5” plastic cases, the smell and feel of the fresh, glossy paper, the raised font of the liner notes, and the sweet, shiny silver hidden behind, glittering like Saturn’s rings, was the most exciting part of a Friday night on our bedroom floors.
Blueprints for the Black Market was one of the albums I bought my brother the following Christmas. I’ve since stolen it and listened to it infinitely more times than he has. I had gone into it honestly expecting “Readyfuels” and “Glass to the Arson” to be the only good songs, but I soon found that this record was so much more. Sure, it’s essentially a bunch of kids fooling around with instruments for fun and has it’s share of simplistic, sensational, teenage-y pop songs (“Foreign Language,” “Autobahn,” “We Dreamt in Heist”), but whether intended or not (perhaps destined), there is something far more special here. I guess to put it simplest, you could say this is the album I went through puberty with. It’s a coming of age album in ways I wouldn’t fully realize for a while, hinting at passions that weren’t quite ready to be awakened yet. Songs like “The Undeveloped Story,” “Cadence,” and “Naïve Orleans” would continue to echo throughout the following years of my life, carrying a piece of that younger me with them, along with new and deeper meaning.
This is not the Anberlin on stage today, nor should it be. In fact, it would seem the band would be happy never playing any of those eleven songs again. But it’s still an important part of what would eventually morph into one of the most genuine, beloved, and gifted outfits in music today.
No good thing lasts forever, but a story and a song.
Early this year, one of my all time favourite bands, Anberlin, announced that they were disbanding after they’re seventh and final studio album release this summer. In several interviews, when asked “Why now?” frontman Stephen Christian said that he would much rather people ask “Why are they leaving?” than “Are they really still around?”
And as bittersweet as it must be, they couldn’t be more okay with it. “I think what’s so cool about this is that we’re ending the band on our time. Nobody in the band hates each other.” I’ve always been an admirer of creators who do it their way from beginning to end. It’s why I love Frank Sinatra, Olan Rogers, and the show Breaking Bad.
But after hearing the news, I was heartbroken, not so much because the band is hanging it up, but because I realized that, in the midst of trying to finish school and sort my life out, I hadn’t listened to Vital more than twelve times since 2012, had not gone through Devotion, or even caught their latest single off the new record. This band whose music has been a faithful accompaniment and influence to my life, I’d simply… neglected. Music used to be where I went to reflect, to unwind, to be refreshed and inspired, and this band was always there. Stephen’s lyrics spoke to me like few others’ could, saying the things I wanted to say, but in ways that made me see with different eyes. And over the past couple of years, I haven’t done a whole lot of that at all.
So for the past few weeks I’ve been spending liberal amounts of time with Anberlin’s discography, listening, really listening, to every song and fully appreciating the depth of care that went into each, recalling the places, smells, and emotions that each song still holds for me.
I’ve been dancing through the fibers of time. And oh, what a dance.
Stephen Christian recently made a blog in which he lists the lyrics to every song on every Anberlin album, along with a dissection of the inspiration and intended meaning of each. When I first saw this, I was a bit horrified, as one of the great things about music to me is that it can have such a strong, personal meaning to each individual who hears. I didn’t want that soiled for me. I can’t imagine ruining something so intimate and dear. I still don’t quite understand his motive behind this, but after my curiosity got the better of me, I visited the site. Some of the meanings made me like the song more, and some… well, I like my version better. But I suppose there is a part of every artist who wants to be understood completely and unambiguously. Maybe it’s time for curtain to be pulled back. Maybe we all get to a point where we need people to know that this is what this song/painting/poem/film/book is about to me. Brilliance isn’t about how cool you can sound, but how true you can be. And there’s only one degree of truth.
The point of all this is that I’ve decided to write a series following all six of Anberlin’s albums. These aren’t reviews so much as they are musings of the places outside of space and time where my life and Anberlin’s intersect. My tribute, my eulogy, if you will.
I don’t imagine anyone else out there would be interested in reading it, but I need to write it. It’s the least I feel I can do.
Feel free to dance along with me, if you like.
I’m discovering that living in the here and now terrifies me more than I realized
And the future is such a mysterious and terrible beast that I’m afraid if I’m not constantly stalking and studying it, it will sneak up behind me and pierce me through the shoulder blades
Which doesn’t make sense because the future is in front of me. Unless I’m looking back, which I usually am in my happiest present
It’s such a paralyzing paradox
My heart breaks at the fact that I have to drive home east at the end of the day and can’t see the sunset you’ve painted behind me.
But I can feel your kiss through the mist on the edge of the green out of the corner of my eye and when I calculate a glance it is so overwhelming that a tear and a gasp of pleasure leap out of me. As if for the first time. Every time.
It’s said the human eye can see more shades of green than any other color because of our evolutionary instinct to distinguish predators from our surroundings. Maybe. But it’s more than that.
Green is the color of heaven.