The Feedback Loop is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.
Even though Vital was released just a couple weeks ago, it feels full of history for me. The heavy guitars and yelping vocals, the psuedo spiritual lyrics, and the brute emotive force of the songwriting all trigger very specific memories in my mind. High school to be specific.
Anberlin is one of the few bands that I’ve had the pleasure of sticking around with since they first got together — at least of the bands that are still making new music. Their breakthrough debut record Blueprint for the Black Market was released in 2005 — a time when both the Christian rock and the emo rock markets were wide open. There was always going to be plenty of room for another band who plays guitar-driven, catchy, emotive, and hard-hitting rock.
Flash forward seven years and gone are the Mae’s, Taking Back Sunday’s, Copeland’s, and Underoath’s of the world. Record labels like The Militia Group have closed their doors, while ForeFront Records and Gotee Records have less than a handful of active artists each. Gone are the times when emo, screamo, hardcore, Christian rock, alternative, and indie all pretty much sounded the same. And that’s what makes Anberlin’s sixth studio album such an achievement.
Vital is, in some ways, a return to form for Anberlin. While they’ve never strayed too far from their comfort zone, the band’s signing onto a major label certainly turned them toward poppier, more radio-friendly versions of their sound. But bringing producer Aaron Sprinkle back into the mix, Anberlin has really recaptured their older, heavier style while still sounding somewhat relevant. For me personally, Vital recalls the band’s third album Cities, where they performed a similar balance between old and new styles. Cities was released my senior year in high school, a time of important decisions about both my personal identity and my future.
To my 18-year old self, Cities was a comprehensive kind of album — large enough for me to squeeze a wide variety of emotions and anxieties into. When it was relationships, there was “Inevitable”, “Adelaide”, and “Dismantle. Repair”. When it was God and the Church, there was “Unwinding Cable Car” and “*Fin”. It was wide enough for it all. Sure there were other “big” albums playing on portable CD player — even more “classic” albums like The Joshua Tree, Oh, Inverted World, Funeral, and even The Dark Side of the Moon. But I always felt like Cities was the kind of album that met me where I was at the time. It was just another alternative/emo rock album — and yet it wasn’t.
There are a few tracks on Vital that stand out to me, namely “Innocent” and “Someone Anyone.” But for the most part, Vital was not made with me in mind. But when I listen to Vital as a whole, I can’t help but forget all that and remember the music that my 16 year old self was passionate about. It was the kind of the stuff I burned on CD mixes and played in my car on the way to school and then in between classes and late at night with my headphones on. Songs from related bands like Brand New’s “Jesus Christ” and Underoath’s “Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape” were absolutely fundamental to the development of my 18-year old understanding of God–more than any sermon or book ever was. Listening to Anberlin again brings me back to a time when music was part of survival for me. It was vital.
I can only hope that Vital is that for someone out there.