BY ELIZABETH SEGRAN
Anberlin • Cities / Lost Songs (2007) ♥♥♥♥♥
Anberlin is one of the best-kept secrets of the alternative rock scene. The band, made up of four Florida natives, signed with Tooth and Nail records in 2002 and has since produced three albums as well as a B-side mix. Anberlin’s music is a distinct blend of intense, unrelenting rock beats and winsome melodies. The frontman, Stephen Christian, delivers thoughtful lyrics with a voice that rings both clear and tender. While Christian’s voice is best showcased in studio recorded albums, Anberlin is fantastic live, illuminating the stage with kinetic energy.
Their sound has gradually matured over the years, both lyrically and musically. Their 2007 EP, Cities, is a triumph on many counts. The album consistently satisfies the listener with songs that are both varied and coherent. The lyrics engage with difficult issues. “Dismantle.Repair.” and “(*Fin)” describe the darkest moments in relationships, when despair seems to overwhelm. (“I am the patron saint of lost causes.”) But the band is anything but bleak. Other songs, such as “Unwinding Cable Car,” inspire hope that love can save – “This is the correlation of salvation and love/ Don’t drop your arms / I’ll guide your heart/ With quiet words I’ll lead you in.” The punchy lead single “Godspeed” asserts that the drug-infused rock lifestyle is neither glamorous nor inevitable. It is obvious from the first listen that this is not your average post-emo alt-rock band.
Their latest offering is a B-side album entitled Lost Songs that will appeal mostly to fans. On it, they present some of their best material in acoustic form as well as some rarities that never made it to their other albums (although songs as beautiful as “The Haunting” and “Uncanny” clearly deserved to be). They also do several covers of their favorite songs by artists as disparate as The Smiths and Bob Dylan. Anberlin is definitely a band to look out for.
Mute Math • Mute Math (2007) ♥♥♥♥
It is difficult to categorize the music that Mute Math makes. It is reminiscent of several musical genres – electronica, jazz, rock – but it is also unlike anything else out there. The four band members, hailing from New Orleans, have managed to create a lucid, original sound from their scattered influences. Mute Math is one of few truly experimental bands to emerge from the messy soup of alternative rock in a while. As musicians, they are frightfully dexterous. The drummer, Darren King, performs most of the album to syncopated beats, at intense speed. While each instrument gets equal emphasis in the songs, the outcome is remarkably harmonious.
Their self-titled full EP burst into the scene in 2007, surprising listeners with raw sounds and unexpected lyrics. Many of the songs seem to deal with abstract ideas, reflected in their titles. For instance, “Chaos” and “Control” are musical meditations on these contrasting concepts. “Stare At The Sun” describes the futility of overdrawn intellectual arguments that don’t get anywhere. There are few love songs on this album and even these describe a love that seems rather ethereal: in “You Are Mine,“ Paul Meanie, the lead vocalist, sings, “There are objects of affection/ That can mesmerize the soul/ There is always one addiction/ That just cannot be controlled/ You are mine.”
Mute Math has made a concerted effort to let their faith come through in their work, but to modulate their message with nuance and subtlety. The band is currently embroiled in a widely publicized legal battle with their previous label, Warner Music, because they refused to be marketed as a Christian band. Although this would have boosted sales, Mute Math believed this would be misrepresenting and pigeonholing their music. As a result, they have taken the more difficult route of signing with a smaller indie label, Teleprompt Records. This is an important step for Christian musicians who believe that music should be allowed to exist in its complexity, rather than be segregated along religious lines.