Fallfest: Anberlin

There’s a lot you could assume about Anberlin based on their mop-haired, chiseled-cheekbone solemnity. Sepia-toned press photos — depicting five skinny men with hands jammed into the front pockets of their raggedy skinny jeans — don’t help much either. They appear to be the dreaded emo band, dripping in heartache, rife with hyperbole and catered to a confused high-school crowd dressed in tight t-shirts (extra points for irony). And, judging from the first explosion of electric guitar with a drumbeat like it had just run a marathon, you’d be right.

The Florida-raised fivepiece doesn’t look like much, but where Anberlin stands out from their blurry, bleak counterparts is in a 20/20 clarity on layering: Every chord and beat remains distinct in a world that tends to rub its fingers raw with each stutter of the strings. Above all soars Stephen Christian’s voice, a naive tenor barely deigned to morph into the puke-scream favored by Anberlin’s brother-bands (Fall Out Boy, I’m lookin’ at you). His rich man-shower vocals shift Anberlin out of pimply territory, rendering something more like emo’s chill older brother who’s also a born-again Christian. It’s the voice that roars the bitterest parts of “Paper Thin Hymn,” murmurs softly in “The Unwinding Cable Car” and hiccups with utmost precision in “Blame Me! Blame Me!” Basically, it’s stuff both you and your girlfriend can sing to. It’s the band you introduce to your parents when they ask what you listen to these days. It’s pretty much just alright.

Come Friday, if you find yourself head-banging to a dude with a highlighted mullet striding around the stage — gesticulating like the most avuncular of professors as he wails, “Who’s gonna call on Sunday Morning?/ Who’s gonna drive you home?” — you can pretend you’ve gotten lost on your way to something, uh, cooler. But don’t be afraid to stick around and shed a few tears while Christian single-handedly raises the scars your high-school sweetheart left with the bombastic, despairing “Feel Good Drag.” Sniff.

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