It's finally here. After years in the making, we at last have a full-length Anchor & Braille record in our hands. Stephen Christian, best known as the lyricist and lead singer of alt-rockers Anberlin, is the face behind Anchor & Braille, and while this isn't an Anberlin record, there is an aura of both familiarity and uniqueness around the entire project that should please fans and non-fans of the band alike.
First, a little history. Anchor & Braille has been around since even before Anberlin's debut Blueprints for the Black Market, but a full-length project had never come to fruition (believe it or not, at least one track, "Cadence," started as an Anchor & Braille song before it was adapted to Anberlin's style for their debut). After some time, a complete album was announced to be in the works, and after numerous delays due to touring duties (mainly to support the Anberlin albums Cities and New Surrender), many, including myself, began to doubt the Anchor & Braille project would ever be released. However, with a time constraint put in place (a promise that Christian would give the album out for free to the public in 2010 if not released before then), Felt was finally let loose on the market last August.
Originally starting as a joint venture between Christian and Copeland's Aaron Marsh, influence by Marsh's (now former) band is extremely evident. Anyone expecting a sound anything like Anberlin's will be sorely disappointed, though anyone dismissive of the record based on this fact alone would be missing out dearly; Christian's trademark vocals work like magic with both a rock and softer style, and it makes the whole project unique and one to send chills up your spine. With a fluent use of falsetto, as well as cryptic but honest lyrical content Anberlin fans have come to know and love, the vocals and music blend flawlessly.
The album really has an indie flavor. Almost every track avoids sounding like a single, so the only one that does have this likening ("Like Steps In a Dance") feels somewhat out of place. It's not a bad track by any means, but it's the most lacking song on the record if there is one. It's worth noting, however, that this album isn't exactly upbeat, musically or lyrically. The overall theme present is love and its sometimes-accompanying complications. Breathtaking at best and somber at worst, not everyone is going to fall in love with Felt. Besides that, lyrical spirituality, just as in Anberlin, is mysterious if present at all, but it's surprisingly more spiritual than one would initially assume. With vague lines like "You've got more damned sinners than saints as friends" ("Sleep. When We Die.") and "Can you turn this pail of water to wine?/If you can do that, I think we'll be fine" ("Blur"), it makes for a spiritually perplexing project. Stephen Christian is a professing believer, but everything's open to interpretation here. Lyrically, nothing is clear cut, especially on tracks like "Introspect" or "Summer Tongues," but nothing is needlessly controversial. Another potential drawback, also, is that while every track is a treasure, one would have a legitimate supposition to say that some tracks run together a little bit near the end. To be sure, if one paid little attention what they were listening to, they might not differentiate tracks from each other very easily. But repeated listens tend to mostly disprove this thinking.
Promised for years, Felt delivered exactly what it promised. Everyone will dig out different diamonds from this mine, but it's this variability that makes this album special. Anchor & Braille's stellar release shines a radiant light on the powerful and versatile talent that Stephen Christian really possesses, whether with his Anberlin cohorts or as a solo artist. Felt is a soothingly beautiful and triumphant record, and it's all I can do to hope that this isn't a one-off project and we can expect more of this musical magic in the future.- Review date: 12/11/09, written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: WoodWater Records / Universal
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