"Well, I should clarify that the title Devotion refers to our devotion to our fans...not their devotion to us."
Stephen Christian, the vocalist for alternative rock band Anberlin, doesn't want there to be any confusion regarding the group's intentions with its "new" record. Devotion will include the same tracks from last year's Vital, as well as B-sides, 13 remixes, a live DVD of the band's acoustic tour stop at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, plus three totally new tracks. Christian hopes the new collection offers fans something, ahem, vital, from the band's discography and not just an expensive rerelease, something record labels are wont to push (the recent three-CD rerelease of In Utero may legitimately inspire the most devoted Nirvana fan, but it also costs $107 at Amazon.com. Devotion ships for $14.88).
Part of ensuring the freshness of content meant finding performers who could put unique spins on Vital's original 11 tracks, versus simply offering covers. Christian pointed to the remix of "Unstable" as an example of dramatic divergence from Anberlin's original sound.
"I'm not a massive fan of dubstep. I don't personally listen to it," he said when describing the new spin. "So when they sent it, I said 'Ayyyyyyyyyyyye dunno.' But then I thought, isn't that the point? If I just wanted something safe or stable I would've done it myself."
Nick Rad, who Christian described as "this guy in Russia" (Music Times has a hunch Rad is actually Skies Fall Records producer Nick Radovanovic), opens the song without straying too far from a sound Anberlin might actually produce — a synth replacing the guitars and a programmed beat swapped in for drummer Nathan Young— before the track drops into a dub-rave for the hook. The rest of the remixes might not be dubstep, but electric keyboards and handclap rhythms pervade throughout (you can stream the remixed album here). Even the vocalist's personal favorite, a version of "Self-Starter" cut by Paper Route frontman J.T. Daly, replaces the hook with a dissonant sample of Christian's voice wailing the word "stay" at an offputting high pitch.
If any Anberlin fans out there are breathing into a paper bag at the thought of the band turning into an EDM act, never fear: The assemblage of seven B-sides and new tracks accompanying Vital's original tracklist don't fall as far from the tree.
Vital proved to be one of the act's most aggressive records, but "City Electric," a song released to promote the new compilation, beams a little more brightly than the tracks from the last release. Not to say that Vital didn't carry a hopeful message, but it came amidst dark themes of doubt and conflict, while City Electric submerses itself in optimism, one of Christian's favorite personality traits. Or at least he listed negativity as "the most annoying thing a person can do" during a previous interview.
He now seems to have realized the role of pessimists in the grand nexus of the music industry, however. Neither Anberlin's music nor music on the end of the emotional spectrum would work without each other, he explained.
"Without some bands' positivity, their negativity would just look mundane or monotonous," he said with a chuckle. "We need each other. I need them to push me to write more positive lyrics, and they need me to look more evil or maniacal."
Anberlin may not qualify as maniacal, but lyrics such as "why do you stay until you see blood?" could meet the standards of death metal if sung from the back of the throat. Any "tame" reputation the band receives normally traces itself back to the wishy-washy "Christian" label critics stick on the band. As with most rock bands labeled based on religion, the topic doesn't come up often, but inevitably becomes part of the band's core identity. Christian's last name doesn't help matters, nor does guitarist Christian McAlhaney's first name.
Christian (the vocalist) doesn't mind the religious label. If listeners judge him based on one image, Christian's not a bad option, he says. He acknowledges his personal beliefs flow back to his music eventually anyhow. The outlook isn't much different from his view on good album art: An image brought to the fore should give an accurate representation of the story inside.
"It's like the great album covers of the '70s," he said, recalling records such as Dark Side of The Moon. "The cover always gave you a good idea what the record was like."
Perhaps. But that means the image on the front of Devotion, an artistic photo of a boy standing ankle-deep near a shore, suggests that the raging waves promised by the Vital cover have subsided within the new album. They haven't. The tides have merely changed direction.