Sound — 4
If any Christian rock act of the 2000s on straddled the mainstream and ante-secular (excusing Switchfoot and Relient-K), it was Florida's Anberlin. Garnering some attention with 2005's "Never Take Friendship Personal", the group continued to court the emo genre in with "Cities" in 2007. Producer Aaron Sprinkle (Kutless, Hawk Nelson) was brought back onboard from the previous two efforts, and singer Stephen Christian boasting a maturer direction for the band citing their debut as "man vs world", the followup as "man vs man", and "Cities" as "man vs self". A month before the album's release, the band dropped a guitarist (or vice versa), and the record itself released with a bit of hoopla in the form of a five-figured first week in sales (~35k). Anberlin sports a vaguely punk-driven rock sound with its feet planted firmly in the mid 2000s. Riding the wave of other bands in the emo wave (tourmates Fall Out Boy) and the "cool kids" of the Christian rock scene, Anberlin has generally fallen in the darker, occasionally more mature (in relation to content) realm of both. The same brooding as employed in bands like Skillet is found on "Cities", with the occasional acoustic track to break loudness highs like "Godspeed", in which certain elements are barely perceptible from others. Meanwhile, "The Unwinding Cable Car" struggle to refresh in the midst of silly lyricism and somewhat-interesting harmonies. Balance eludes the album. In a telling episode of abruptness, intro "(Debut)" doesn't even blend into opener "Godspeed". In the spirit of the band's previous work, "Cities" is primarily punk/rock with a somewhat tinny emo spin. Though power chords infest virtually every track in some form or another, not a solo nor standout is to be found. Similarly, the drums certainly seem to back the songs with some technical skill, but very little personality alone. With a bassist thrown in there (somewhere) for kicks, the bulk of the album is left on the shoulders of lyrics and vocals. Some electronic elements are thrown in the production itself feels conspicuously digital but don't add much. If anything, it steamrolls the band with the same "emo" label that Panic! At The Disco encountered with their debut; this is true especially of "There Is No Mathematics To Love And Loss" and "Godspeed". Altogether, "Cities" packs the same exact bag of tricks as "Blueprints For The Black Market" and "Never Take Friendship Personal" a bag the band isn't hesitant to refer back to continuously and without variation. Some moments ("Inevitable", "(*Fin)") are pretty, and aren't likely friends of other bands the honesty of Christian's vocal work and the particular slam of the punk-influenced drum-and-guitar construction are solely responsible especially for the latter, which also features a cheesy choir segment. To the same extent, every track is juggling the same amount of buzzkill-versus-inspiration; the band doesn't pick and choose cheesy moments very well, even after three releases.
Lyrics — 4
As if the band doesn't drag at a slug's pace in its musical despair, Christian prolongs the suffering (in more ways than one) with bizarrely honest vocal work. On one hand, the genre demands a degree of emotion, but he does it with as much humor as a high schooler; his trials are so great, it seems, that he can't help but whine away every single song. Similar acts (previously mentioned Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance) get away with this because their respective frontmen insert a healthy dose of irony in even the most dramatic lyrical work. I can only compare Anberlin to reading a young person's diary the thoughts are too raw, too brutally honest, and difficult to transcend the writer's perspective. Christian has the same problem alienating listeners with an overload of melodrama. Lyrically, I tend to have the same thoughts "I've got the gun/All I need is ten cents for the bullet"; "Could you kill, could you kill me"; "Clap your hands, all ye children"; and so on. Doom and gloom are two of my favorite side dishes, but when the concentration is so drastic and so inhumanely muddled, it's hard to swallow helped, perhaps, by music that only drives the point home. If the band didn't spend so much time wallowing in points gone over before, perhaps the profundity might shine.
Overall Impression — 5
"Cities" does not lack depth, and perhaps Anberlin doesn't even lack talent the issue here is of subtlety and clarity. Too often do the lyrics reach into the same hat, too seldom does the stream of consciousness break from nostalgia and general angst. The concept Christian mentioned, specifically the thematic progression from the last release, opens the door to great material for about half an album. The result really is just that; every other track is easily dismissed, including the unfortunate bookends. Stylistically, there isn't much happening; variation in general is a complete stranger. I hesitate to say that the record is a complete drag through the mud it would be ironic, considering the subject matter but, despite its somewhat hopeful ending, "Cities" does feel rather forlorn.