I always appreciate an album that has an “epic” feel to it. That word is so over-used that it may not describe much anymore, but you know it when you feel it. You understand when music is taking you somewhere, has a destination, and bears profound importance. Anberlin’s 2007 release Cities fits the bill.
This is my favorite Anberlin album to this day, over six years later. I still remember being home on spring break, having my wisdom teeth taken out, and going to pick up this album at Best Buy the next day. I lay on the brown carpet in the upstairs “band room,” taking in the lyrics from the liner notes as I listened for the first time. From the eerie, noise-laden opening track, the listener can tell this effort will be serious. As the journey progresses, there are some pop-accessible tracks such as “Adelaide” which balance the weightiness of “Hello, Alone” and “Unwinding Cable Car,” for better or worse. Of course, it is the more sober songs which drew me in.
Throughout the album, the drums stand out much more than in Anberlin’s previous releases. In addition to a more prominent place in the mix, the licks of Nathan Young require a dose of technicality. The guitar parts aren’t incredibly complicated, but the tones and effects used add greatly to the feel of each song. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the album to me is the dynamic range. I don’t mean that songs start out quiet and build to a loud finish, but that the band wrote a collection of songs which covers the whole gamut. Commonly, a band will throw an acoustic ballad in amid a collection of rock tracks, but Anberlin takes it much further. They go from full-force anthems to mid-tempo synth-rock to delicate acoustic strumming and beyond. As opposed to feeling disjointed, the songs actually meld wonderfully. They stand relatively well on their own, too. All along, Stephen Christian’s strong tenor delivers, even as he dips into falsetto in the more intricate passages.
The other thing I love is how the simplicity of the title gives a cohesive context to the songs. The word “cities” conjures notions of traveling, listlessness, and disconnection, being far from home. Many of the lyrics deal in exactly these avenues. Some of my favorite lines are from “Dismantle. Repair.”
One last glance from a taxi cab
Images scar my mind
Four weeks felt like years
Since your full attention was all mine
The night was young and so were we
We talked about life, God, death, and your family
Didn’t want any promises
Just my undivided honesty
Many lines speak of lost relationships or the internal struggle of not being anchored, floating from city to city. While the band may not have intended this interpretation exactly, it’s what pulls everything into focus for me. Disconnection. Drifting. Cities.
Lastly, the closing track, “Fin,” is the definition of epic. Clocking in at just under nine minutes, it wanders through simple acoustic verses, wall-of-sound choruses, sparse interludes, and choral refrains. Anticipation builds and bursts into heavy torrents of rock no less than twice as Christian wails melodically, singing of the “patron saint of lost causes.” Best of all, Young pushes himself to the limits as he thrashes on the drums, hardly repeating a fill or stroke. The song closes with spacey vocals, interesting percussion, and a huge power chord ringing out, leaving the listener standing at the edge.
Overall, this is an album worth listening to from beginning to end, journeying with the band through highs and lows, light and dark, before finally resolving on a hopeful note. It inspired me through the latter part of my college years, and it stands as a monument in Anberlin’s career.
You can find the epic rock of Anberlin’s Cities on Spotify or Amazon.