Friday, February 13, 2015

The Explosive Heights of Anathema's "Distant Satellites"

The Kscope Label Sampler vol. 6 seemed like a pretty good deal: ten full length songs, two of them new tracks by North Atlantic Oscillation and Steven Wilson, both of which are artists I really like, as well as several other tracks by artists I had seen bouncing around end of year “best-of” lists. The deal was particularly sweet because it was totally free. I put it on repeat during the long, quiet overnight plane ride home from Hawaii.

Because of that appealing price point, I won’t go too much into detail on the collection. I will say (and I don’t get paid to do so) that it is totally worth the effort to download it. I will to make special mention, however, of Steven Wilson’s cover of ABBA’s The Day Before You Came.  Undoubtedly, there are progressive rock conservatives that will take exception to this track, but I think its brilliant. It is hard to imagine another artist injecting more character into what at first glance might seem like a funky 70's pop song. In any lesser hands, it just wouldn’t work. Wilson’s characteristic melancholy, however, creates a uniquely forlorn sense of nostalgic longing by juxtaposing the reflective aspects of the lyrics to mine the deeper implications of the song

Another song that caught my attention was Anathema’s The Lost Song part 3. This band had already caught my attention on a DPRP “Editor’s Choice” list. The soaring melodies of this track set me out beating the streets for a copy of the full album.

This ended up being a great, great move. It has been a very long time since I found an album as immediately engaging as Distant Satellites, and even longer since an instantly gratifying album continued to reveal new rewards after almost a month and a half of constant play. Anathema has all the grandeur of Marillion, the drama of Tears for Fears, the atmospheric variety of Radiohead, the climactic pacing of Sigur Ros, and the dynamic impact of Opeth, all gathered under breathtakingly emotive lyrics. In short, Distant Satellites is my new favorite album.

Anathema’s songs are infectiously singable, passionately performed, and intelligently constructed. In fact, structures of their songs have a bit more in common with “post-rock” or, in some ways, maybe even contemporary dance music. Like other current “post-prog” artists like Syd Arthur, Anathema employs odd metered ostinatos as a framework for composition, letting their songs flow naturally and logically from a relatively simple idea. Through subtle variation and the layering in of new material, they push these initial statements to explosive heights. No matter how far they push these ideas, however, they never lose track of the power of melody to pull the composition together.

Many artists from the sampler do not fit neatly into the classic conception of progressive rock, and Anathema is no exception.  I could see how prog conservatives might give Anathema the "not prog" stamp, but to me, they represent a new idea about what the genre could look like in the 21st century.  I often wonder where the new great progressive bands are, and I think Anathema is emerging as one of them.  If I had discovered it at the end of last year, it would most likely have unseated Dawes at the last minute as my favorite album of the year. It has made that kind of impact. Coming at the beginning of 2015, however, it has set the bar impossibly high for the year to follow.

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