Most albums can be comfortably sorted on the scale between "terrible" and "fantastic." We enjoy them immensely or not at all. However, there are also those rare albums that transcend such classification because they are too special and too important. They are our favorite albums of all time and nothing short of a gift to our lives. Anathema's latest opus, We're Here Because We're Here, is such an album. In essence, it is an hour of the most beautiful pop/rock (with a touch of prog) music I've ever heard.
Rarely is there band whose discography is as diverse as Anathema. Formed in the UK circa 1990, they went from a doom/death metal band (few fans even acknowledge those albums) to, presently, a progressive (but not in a neo-prog way) rock/pop band. In between they have released several albums, none of which sound anything alike. The late 90s saw a gloomy rock band with classical influences, A Fine Day to Exit was their Beatles album and A Natural Disaster was their Kid A. Now they return six years later with what is unquestionably their finest LP. The combination of matured songwriting, poignant lyrics and production by revered genius Steven Wilson (whose main project, Porcupine Tree, is my favorite band), has resulted in a masterpiece. If Anathema's career has been a dark examination of death, sadness and anger, We're Here Because We're Here sees them finally entering heaven, tranquil and optimistic. If that doesn't seem to make sense, study the album cover as you listen to the music, and it will.
We're Here Because We're Here is all about melody, harmony and orchestration. This is evident right away with the stunning opener, "Thin Air." A simple guitar arpeggio leads us into a beautiful melody about how love is freeing. The vocals are very emotional and powerful, and 9 times out of 10 such subject matter would be clichιd and sappy. This song (and album) is the exception. Halfway through the track, things calm down for a moment before a dramatic harmony is introduced, and it repeats till the end, providing a dreamy foundation when the verse and chorus come back (it's similar to the harmony section in Opeth's 'Master's Apprentices"). Already we hear how Steven Wilson has brought their production to a new level and they've grown as songwriters. What an opening!
"Summernight Horizon" brings back a familiar complexity and intensity fans of Judgement and Alternative 4 will love. It's very guitar driven and aggressive, but it still has its mellow, angelic bridge, which shows an increased ability for dynamics. These two styles melt perfectly, providing a very full sound with male/female vocals singing passionately. It is a great lead in for "Dreaming Light," which is simply one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard.
A simple piano ballad with light rock accompaniment at the start, it eventually evolves into a glorious statement about feeling blissfully in love. Perhaps because Steven Wilson produced the album, he modeled it to be their "Collapse the Light into Earth," and if you do have a significant other, you'll think of them every time you hear this. Again, it's hard to write about such subject matter without it being lame, but Anathema has accomplished this masterfully. Prepare to blast this song and be ensconced in its string arrangements and fragile playing. It's music at its most serene.
"Everything" lets the male/female harmony shine even more over an affective piano riff and odd time signature. And again, Anathema crafts a touching melody with simple but tender lyrics that will stay with you. This track will make you appreciate life more, and you'll smile as you listen (which is true for the whole album). These are the types of songs all artists wish they could write, but very few can.
The centerpiece of We're Here Because We're Here is the duo (they segue) of "Angels Walk Among Us" and "Presence." One can imagine singer Vincent Cavanagh walking around Heaven, suddenly content with the afterlife and seeing all the beauty it has to offer. Again, if this sounds like nonsensical hyperbole, it's only because you haven't heard the album yet. The chorus is one of the more intense moments, but it's just as magnificent as anything else, and the verse is airy and calming. The second part consists of an English man discussing mortality over very elegant mellotron chord changes and string progressions. In principle, it's a lot like Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig in the Sky" from Dark Side of the Moon, although a lot more subtle. As the man stops speaking and the music builds, Jamie Cavanagh reprises the verse from the first part for a moment before the man returns to say "life is eternal" repeatedly. It then segues into the next track, "A Simple Mistake."
Reciting the verse syllable by syllable (like Opeth's "In My Time of Need"), "A Simple Mistake" is yet another fantastic example of songwriting, this time about self-actualization and fulfillment. I suppose that if We're Here Because We're Here is about contentment in the afterlife, this track reminds us to be sure we live our lives to the fullest before we transcend. The middle section is a heavy instrumental jam, which is very awesome, and eventually it returns to vocals, bringing it full circle.
"Get Off, Get Out" opens with Vincent Cavanagh chanting the title with mutli-tracked vocals while guitar arpeggio and lush background of sound. It's very tribal. This leads into another splendid harmony before launching into a catchy verse melody. In an aggressive chorus, Cavanagh tells us to stop being so selfish and egotistical.
Ominous cellos and a simulated heartbeat introduce us to "Universal," where Cavanagh sings softly and slowly. Eventually violins come in, subtly, and it's reminiscent of Muse' "Blackout." It accumulates energy and ferocity before everything suddenly stops and a beautiful piano riff shines alone for a moment. Then, more sounds and instruments are built on top, culminating in a massively affective orchestral crescendo.
We're Here Because We're Here concludes with the instrumental "Hindsight." It opens with weird audio clips and backward loops, as if it's a David Lynch produced B-side from A Natural Disaster. A bass line is laid on, then crashing cymbals and finally guitar lines. It's a perfect outro, providing a feeling of closure after all the ideas and emotions Anathema have given us over the last hour. Eventually, a sharper guitar timbre copies the melody as a choir chants. It's very cinematic, as playing over the final moments of a film, showing us clips of all the dramatic moments that occurred prior. At its most intense, the Porcupine Tree style of rock with a slight psychedelic edge is present, and it calms down as it draws to a close, bringing in acoustic arpeggio and more audio samples. These clips, along with organ and reversed violin, fade out.
The greatest reward of writing about music is the ability to discover something special and convey its merit to whoever reads your work. Still, there are just some albums that words could never do justice to. As Frank Zappa said, "talking about music is like dancing about architecture." I've done my best to describe Anathema's newest album, their finest work in my eyes, but it's not enough. We're Here Because We're Here is an album you must hear for yourself. I urge you to do so however you can. It is a wonderful experience full of masterfully crafted and developed melodies, very moving lyrics and perfectly suited production. It is a unique, special gem you should add to your collection ASAP. Besides being Anathema's best hour yet, it is a new favorite album of mine, and the best album I've heard this year.
1. "Thin Air" 5:59
2. "Summernight Horizon" 4:12
3. "Dreaming Light" 5:47
4. "Everything" 5:05
5. "Angels Walk Among Us" 5:17
6. "Presence" 2:58
7. "A Simple Mistake" 8:14
8. "Get Off Get Out" 5:01
9. "Universal" 7:19
10. "Hindsight" 8:10