Review Summary: Break every clock and stay in the moment.
It’s not often that a band makes the leap from creating youthful albums into sophisticated, mature albums, especially on their third LP. But this is exactly what Anberlin did on Cities
, jumping from their solid sophomore effort Never Take Friendship Personal
. The band takes all the positives from their old albums and transplants them in a far more mature context. The end product is an entirely captivating, diverse, and consistent effort with few valleys and many peaks.
Starting from the beginning feels only appropriate in Cities
, and after "(Debut)," “Godspeed” picks up the pace immediately. One immediately notices the maturity in the lyrics, with lead singer Stephen Christian denouncing the rock star culture of drug abuse. Likewise, the drumming is vastly improved in the entire album, and Joseph Milligan shows off a guitar solo. It is the hardest hitting rocker on the album and kicks off the album brilliantly. Likewise, "A Whisper and a Clamor" sees Anberlin making better use of the bridge, with an acoustic breakdown. This fantastically crafted idea deviates from the standard guitar solos of previous efforts. It also features a thoroughly interesting guitar riff in the chorus, and the lyrics---"I grow tired of writing songs/ where people listen but never hear what's really going now"---warn the band's audience to listen carefully to their lyrics. Aside from the improved composition, however, the most noticeable change of the album is the variation. The album contains a few traditional alt-rock rockers (“Godspeed,” “A Whisper and a Clamor,” “Alexithymia”), but fellow upbeat tracks “Reclusion” and “There Is No Mathematics to Love and Loss” contain an interesting twist---they are predominately synthesizer-backed. This gives the album much variety, and Anberlin manages to create an accessible feel even on these electronic songs to appeal to their alt-rock base. Indeed, the synth-laden guitar solo in the heavier “Reclusion” and the synth solo of 'There Is No Mathematics to Love and Loss" are both highlights of the album. Ultimately, each of the uptempo rockers on the album displays something new from the band, whether a drum and bass intro ("Alexithymia"), creative breakdowns, or effective use of synthesizers.
Anberlin also pull off the acoustic ballads off beautifully. It must be said that Christian has one of the best voices in the entire genre, and it shows on tracks like “Inevitable” and “Unwinding Cable Car.” Anberlin is no stranger to the topic of love, shown in the lyrics of the former, but the sincerity of Christian shines through when he declares to his girl, “I want to be your last first kiss/ that you’ll ever have.” The track is quite beautiful---something you would want played at your wedding. Likewise, the stunningly gorgeous “Unwinding Cable Car,” too, excels lyrically, serving as the yin to “(*fin)”’s yang, and possibly outshines “Inevitable.” Meanwhile, the semi-acoustic "Dismantle.Repair" simultaneously shows the band's ballad and uptempo talents, merging the two into a powerful anthem. It also likely has the strongest chorus of the album. While fan-favorite “Adelaide” and “Hello Alone” are perhaps the closest to missteps on the album, the former is nevertheless extremely catchy and the latter is similarly likable, allowing both to avoid filler status.
Lyrics are the forefront of the album, with Christian himself commenting on how much more introspective and mature the lyrics of the album are, so it seems only appropriate that the band’s lyrical and musical highlight close the album---“(*fin).” The crowning jewel in the diadem of Cities
, “(*fin)” displays everything Anberlin is capable of doing. The same acoustic skills displayed in “Unwinding Cable Car” and “Inevitable” are shown in the first three minutes of “(*fin)”. Over a simplistic but haunting guitar melody croons Christian about his struggle with Christianity---a stark contrast from God’s point of view in “Unwinding Cable Car.” The lyrics, borne out of his real life experience and doubt, are so deeply intimate and emotional that one cannot help but be swept along into the song. Then, the song transitions into a full band set, throwing in a children’s choir to soar over Christian’s vocals. While the section is slightly overlong, the guitar solos do much to make the song end as quickly as it starts. Anberlin takes an additional two minutes for an improvised piece as Christian cathartically sings over a lonesome guitar. Somehow, the entire grandiosity of the concept works as the band finishes their masterpiece.
, many Anberlin fans held out hope for some sort of magnum opus that would use all of the band’s immense talent to forge a nearly perfect album. But perhaps this entire time, that masterpiece has been sitting in their CD collection. At times, it lacks the feel of a classic record, likely due to a preconceived notion about the necessity of grandiosity in the record. It doesn’t feel right that a stripped down song like “Inevitable” can be on a perfect record, but cliché as it sounds, every song contributes to the album. When you listen to Cities
, just “break every clock/ and stay in the moment.”