May 18, 2020 Anchor & Braille – Tension (Album Review)
Known for his work as Anberlin’s frontman, talented singer-songwriter Stephen Christian is no stranger to music. Delivering seven albums over 12 years with the aforementioned Rock outfit, Christian and his comrades sold over a million records before they went their separate ways in 2014. Thankfully, the musician had already established a solo project as an outlet for content that didn’t fit the Anberlin aesthetic; and that project was entitled Anchor & Braille.
Under the guise of Anchor & Braille, Christian would issue his first full-length, Felt, in 2009, before going on to deliver 2012’s The Quiet Life and 2016’s Songs for the Late Night Drive Home. Stylistically speaking, each successive release evolved, taking what was once a largely acoustic project and dipping its toes into Indie Rock before, ultimately, creating a minimalistic Indie Pop record.
That record is Tension: a 10-song journey through beautifully simplistic, chill vibes steeped in Christian’s effortless Pop sensibilities. Hoping to pull listeners out of their current situation and provide them with a reprieve from the burdens of daily life, Anchor & Braille’s Tension arrives on Friday, May 22, 2020 via Tooth & Nail Records.
The album opens to the ethereal synth-mosphere of “No Ordinary.” Coupling those infectious Pop sensibilities with a soft, rocking feel, and backing it all with electronics, the track sets the stage for an Indie Pop collection that is strong with Christian’s easily recognizable vocals—the sound of an old friend trying new things. Next, the gossamer melodies of “Black Sea” depict an all-encompassing love before the funky “Eventful Horizons” soars throughout the sonisphere with the aim of locking lips. Here, the space analogies lend themselves toward a loose Starset comparison, but no, this is a sound that is uniquely Christian’s own.
For the collections’ fourth track, the vocalist crafts a delicate bopper dedicated to the pairing that lets you get “Dangerous.” Super radio-ready, it segues perfectly into the saccharine sweetness of “Tethered,” which twinkles with some jazzy influences in its beat. Meanwhile, just as infectious and radio-friendly as its predecessors, “Closer-Farther” has a classic Pop feel that sits at the heart of its push and pull tale, one that elevates the track beyond its ‘sisters.’
Next up, a smoothness born of R&B influences infiltrates “Slow Motion,” and then the electronic pace picks up for the supernatural love story “Phantom Pain,” which highlights the educational power of loss. Then, as the album winds to a close, a neo-’80s vibe sits beneath the soaring “Madness,” with funky bass beats and Christian’s best vocal performance of the collection. Though, ultimately, he ends with the sensual delicacy of the silky “Beautiful Song.”
A collection of calming beats that are meant to massage the listener’s ears and intended to provide an effortless experience, Tension is always subtle. As such, minimalist arrangements highlight Christian’s vocals and are often accentuated by the nuanced electronics that, while always present, never reach their tentacles into the spotlight. Instead, the album maintains a soft and filmy style, one that is best described as Anberlin meets The Postal Service. Of course, however you categorize it, Christian’s vocals will always be easily recognizable, no matter how they are packaged. Couple this with his lyrical focus on the many facets of love and relationships, the highs and low, and you have an album that does not stray too far from the artist’s extensive oeuvre of emotive material. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Tension 4 of 5 stars.