In today's instantly downloadable and quickly consumed culture, bands like Anberlin are a dying breed. Over the course of six years and four full-lengths (including last year's B-side compilation Lost Songs), the band have established themselves as one of alternative rock's most exciting acts and as a band who refuse to limit themselves to one specific scene or sound... and it's paid off. If the band reinvented themselves with last year's sprawling album Cities--which debuted in the Billboard Top 20 and sold 34,000 copies its first week of release--they've transcended that sound with New Surrender. In fact, their latest album that shows the band reconciling all of their seemingly disparate moods into a cohesive blend of music that will lull you to sleep with gentle harmonies one minute and shake you to the core via raw, distortion-drenched rock riffage the next.
This control of dynamics has embodied Anberlin's music since their 2003 debut Blueprints For The Black Market which instantly caught on with fans of emotional music who didn't want to be fed the same musical clichés--oh, and touring alongside acts like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance to support that album didn't hurt either. After playing literally hundreds of shows and growing as both musicians and people the band released their sophomore album Never Take Friendship Personal in 2005. Markedly more mature both musically and lyrically, that album established Anberlin as more than another underground sensation and showed that there was no limit to what the band could achieve. This same trend was evident with last year's mainstream breakthrough Cities, which showed the band progressing even more and expanding their musical vision exponentially.
All this brings us to New Surrender. Although the album retains the Anberlin sound that fans have grown to love, in many ways it's also an album of firsts that marks the next chapter in the band's illustrious history. For example, after working for years exclusively with longtime producer/friend Aaron Sprinkle this time around the band decided to enlist legendary producer Neal Avron (Fall Out Boy, Yellowcard, New Found Glory) to capture their sound. Additionally, after selling 435,000 albums on the well-respected indie label Tooth And Nail, with New Surrender the band decided it was finally time for them to step up to a major label--and although they had been courted by various majors for years, the band decided to go with Universal Republic. "At Tooth And Nail there was a glass ceiling and there was no way to get our music out to all the people we wanted to reach," Christian explains when asked about the band's decision to change labels. "To us, Universal Republic represents a sense of stability in this turbulent
era for music: The staff is going nowhere, the label is here to stay and they have proven time and time again that they can take bands to the people--and that is where we belong... among the people."
"The whole album is conceptualized around the theme of a new surrender in the sense that everyone in their lives has something they know they have to give up," responds Christian when asked about the title of the band's latest opus. "There's something that's holding each of us back from who we could become, so I think each song kind of tackles that theme of surrendering parts of life whether it's a person or a vice." In order to capture this idea, the band--which also features guitarist Joseph Milligan, bassist Deon Rexroat, drummer Nathan Young and new addition and former Acceptance guitarist Christian McAlhaney--spent three months in the studio with Avron carefully crafting their most fully realized effort to date.
In fact, from the equally cathartic and melodic track "Breaking" to the soon-to-be summertime anthem "Haight Street" and acoustic ballad "Younglife," New Surrender is the most varied album of the band's career--something they credit largely to the new addition of McAlhaney, who has solidified the band's lineup and become an integral part of the songwriting process. "I think it just felt right," McAlhaney responds when asked when it was like to be thrown into a songwriting team of Christian and Milligan, who have been writing together for nearly thirteen years. "There was no trial period, we just went for it," he continues. "It definitely helped having someone else to bounce ideas off of," Milligan concurs, adding that he's confident that New Surrender is undoubtedly the band's strongest album to date.
Although both of the band's guitarists have completely different styles, they perfectly complement each both rhythmically and melodically on New Surrender--and this sonic interaction has added a new level of depth to Anberlin's already powerful sound. Additionally, this renewed sense of enthusiasm doesn't just apply to the guitars but also carries over to Stephen's vocals, which manage to achieve almost religious levels of grandeur on the falsetto-fueled "Retrace" or soaring, operatic ballad "Breathe." "Neal [Avron] did not let me get away with anything," Christian explains, noting that every vocal part on the album is sung individually without relying on studio trickery such as auto-tuning. While this unorthodox approach required additional work on the band's part, the result is a vocal performance that shows Christian extending his already impressive range and solidifying him as one of the strongest frontman in the genre.
New Surrender is also the first Anberlin album to work the band's well-documented humanitarian efforts into the lyrics, which have included going to Kenya to teach about AIDS prevention or traveling to Calcutta, India, to educate the masses about the danger of human trafficking. "I live in Los Angeles now, so
I wrote a song [Disappear] about homelessness because that's something that's so prevalent in my life," Christian elaborates. "There's also about another song [Burn Out Brighter (Northern Lights)] about living unselfishly and the lyrics say, "'I want to live and die for someone else / the more I live, I see this life's not about me,'" he adds. "I'm really excited that we've got to the level lyrically where our fans don't listen to Anberlin for just the basic, `Oh girl, I want to hold your hand," he says, noting that the supportive nature of Anberlin's fans gave him artistic license to challenge himself and take his own writing to the next level this time around.
However, the band are quick to stress the fact that New Surrender is ultimately an album that's made to be listened to instead of analyzed--and songs like "Feel Good Drag" are so infectious that it's likely that listeners will be too wrapped up in the majesty of the music to waste their time worrying about how to pigeonhole Anberlin's sound. "In some ways I don't think we have that much emotional attachment to music nowadays," Christian says, noting that music seems to be such a ubiquitous part of our daily lives that it's easy to forget the passion that initially drew most of us to it the first place. "I want people to feel like they belong to this record; it's their record and I want them to treat it like that," he explains. "Hopefully New Surrender doesn't just have one single that everyone attaches himself or herself to," he summarizes, "I really want all twelve songs to be a part of their lives."