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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Anberlin -- Blueprints for the Black Market


During the summer of 2002, two of my best friends (who are still my best friends) got in a van with me at 3 am (this isn't going where you think it is) and drove all the way from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Bushnell, Illinois--827 glorious non-stop miles. Our destination: The Legendary Cornerstone Music Festival. Almost ten years later, it's clear that we were fortunate enough to attend one of the best weeks ever put on by Cornerstone. Eight Days, actually! Day one was titled Tooth & Nail day, a showcase for the record label of the same name. The majority of Tooth & Nail's bands played in two tents with staggered start times (brilliantly, in alphabetical order). The first band to perform was a new signee, Anberlin. The three of us had never heard of them. Their appearance as they took the stage wasn't promising. The drummer looked to be 12 at the most. We made fun of him. The other dudes looked...kind of cheesy. The band seemed to sense that the only reason the tent was full was that, for that one moment of the gargantuan festival, they were the only band playing. Then they ripped into their first song, "Ready Fuels." The drummer tore his kit to shreds. In the first 30-seconds he did a roll that forced us to immediately apologize for our disparaging remarks. The singer ripped up his vocal chords.
After the first song ended, all three of us were wondering when this band's first CD was coming out. Actually we said that out loud at the same time, I think. The crowd ate up the rest of Anberlin's edgy, high-energy set. Anberlin's vocalist, Stephen Christian, sensing the momentum the band had picked up, said discouragingly, "Glad you like us. Please be patient. We're working on our first album, but it could be a while." A few days later, we ran into him, and he and I had a very amiable conversation. He actually initiated it, and turned out to be a friendly, pleasant dude. He told the truth about their album, though.
Blueprints for the Black Market came out nearly a full year later. I think all three of us bought it the day it came out, but I vividly remember buying it alone, and listening to the entire album on my commute home.
The first guitar riff got me excited. It was the song they opened up with at Cornerstone, "Ready Fuels!" A few minutes later, my excitement dimmed. The song was still great, but the drum sound was completely anti-septic. The edge in Stephen's voice was completely rounded. Only one drum roll?

At first I wanted to blame the production, and it's true--Aaron Sprinkle has produced some pretty great albums (one of em's even tattoed on my arm), but all it seems like he did here is take that initial beautiful Anberlin performance and polish it until the only thing left was a glare. Don't get me wrong, though, on Blueprints the band also shows their weaknesses, ones that have dogged them ever since. The first weakness is the reined in performances that should be running free. The second is this:
Cheese tastes delicious, but when you stick it in your ears, it just makes you feel cheap and dirty. The best of the five albums Anberlin have released (and yes, due to the contractual obligations of "Every Album I Own Reviews," I will review every one) have been the lowest on cheese.
Cheese makes it's first true appearance on Blueprint's second track, "Foreign Language." As in "Girl's speak in...doo, doo, doo, dooh." There are some more lyrics to the song, but I shan't repeat them. Eight years later, the pain is still too near. Anberlin don't hit the Swiss Bank too often on this album, which is quite fortunate, but the heavier songs are certainly dulled by the shiny production to the point that the album sounds far more monotonous than it really is.
Even so, this debut shows some of the promise that Anberlin displayed the first time I saw them. Will they fulfill it?

2003 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Readyfuels 3:37
2. Foreign Language 2:49
3. Change the World (Lost Ones) 3:59
4. Cold War Transmissions 3:12
5. Glass to the Arson 3:29
6. The Undeveloped Story 3:27
7. Autobahn 3:25
8. We Dreamt in Heist 3:17
9. Love Song 3:05
10. Cadence 3:17
11. Naïve Orleans 4:08

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