Album Review :
Anchor & Braille - Felt

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Artist: Anchor & Braille

Album: Felt

Label: Woodwater Records

Release Date: August 4, 2009

Review by: Eric Pettersson

Tracklisting:

  1. Rust (The Short Story of Mary Agnosia)
  2. Like Steps in a Dance
  3. Blur.
  4. Inretrospect
  5. Summer Tongues
  6. Calm, Calm, Calm Yourself
  7. Wedding/ Funeral
  8. Sleep. When We Die.
  9. Forget Love, I Just Want You to Make Sense to Me Tonight.
  10. Sing Out
  11. Sheet Music/ Sheet Music

In 2006, a few acoustic demos popped up on the usual outlets (myspace, purevolume) from Stephen Christian, making fans everywhere thrilled at the thought of a solo project from Anberlin’s lead vocalist. Three years later, we finally have an album available under the moniker Anchor & Braille, featuring all new versions of the songs in those demos along with plenty of brand new songs too. The music is very soft and chill, mostly piano-based, with a lot of layered electric guitars, and Christian is as lyrically brilliant as ever.

Of course, the other thing people tend to know about this album is that it was produced by Aaron Marsh, the lead singer of Copeland, and this is obvious throughout the album. Every time I listen to “Blur,” I’m thrown off once Stephen’s vocals start because the piano is so distinctly Aaron’s that it sounds strange to hear someone else singing over it. This is not to say that it’s a bad sound. No, not at all. Just that as a big Copeland fan, it took a little getting used to for me.

Oddly, it seems the songs I already knew tend to be my favorites on this record. The first Stephen Christian demo I heard was an acoustic song called, “In Retrospect It Was Obviously Hell.” This song is fleshed out on this album as “Inretrospect,” with strings, piano, drums, an electric guitar, and even bells, which makes it sound fantastic, but no matter what the music sounded like, the song would still be really moving just from the great vocal melody on the chorus and the deeply personal lyrics that struggle with a broken relationship. “Sleep. When We Die,” is piano-based love song that sings, “We’ll sleep when we die, so just lay awake with me here all night.” A female vocal with heavy effects is added to the bridge along with a thick bass and a soft, jazzy trumpet. The closing song, “Sheet Music/ Sheet Music,” sounds a lot better this time around. The demo didn’t really work in my opinion, but this version makes much more sense now that the piano, strings, and drums have all been fully developed, turning it into one of my standout tracks for this release. The slow tempo and the soaring chorus blend beautifully for a powerful and moving closer.

As for the new songs, there’s a lot of gems on this album. “Like Steps in a Dance” is upbeat and maybe even a little dancy with a happy falsetto chorus to match the fast drums and bright piano. Christian and Marsh co-wrote, “Summer Tongues,” which brings in all of Marsh’s guitar and horn tricks to make a great indie-pop track with more quality love song lyrics (something that seems to be strangely absent in a lot of indie rock these days). A few songs, such as “Calm, Calm, Calm Yourself,” don’t really work for me just because the vocal melodies could have been better worked out. This particular track is a bit goofy on the chorus, but it certainly comes nowhere close to ruining the album. In fact, it’s not even a bad song. It just isn’t really up to the quality found elsewhere on Felt.

As expected, Aaron Marsh offers some guest vocals on the album, but he actually only does so on the bridge of “Forget Love…” This was a good choice, because if he had sung a lot more, Anchor & Braille would have ceased to be a true Stephen Christian solo album and instead become a side project with Aaron Marsh. Now, of course, that probably would have been a killer album, but it was not the intent for Felt, and these guys did a good job keeping that balance.

Overall: Taking a break from Anberlin, Stephen Christian has penned an album that explores the softer side of his musical creativity and a more introspective side to his lyrical poeticism. Songs are vague yet personal, making it easy for the listener to relate in some way to most of the tracks. Aaron Marsh’s production really added a lot to the indie-pop sounds of this piano-based record, and he was a good fit for what Anchor & Braille seems to be doing.

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