Anathema: The Optimist (KScope)
It seems it was only yesterday that Anathema delivered Distant Satellites, a stunning piece of work that still resonates, its melancholic themes and use of electronica and loops moving the band further towards the progressive rock that their sound has slowly metamorphosed towards since the turn of the century. Last year's short and select UK tour provided those of us lucky enough to get tickets with the opportunity to hear four of the songs that feature on The Optimist which was sufficient to whet the appetite. Combined with an increasingly savvy internet presence, this made the new release highly anticipated.
With a concept that follows on from the story in 2001's A Fine Day To Exit, the album opens with the sound of the sea and possibly our hero (?) returning to the car. The coordinates 32. 63N 117.14W take you to Silver Strand Beach, San Diego and the location of the cover of A Fine Day To Exit. What follows for the next hour is the the next chapter of a band who are well over a quarter of a century into their career. Subtle layered alt-rock with more in common with Radiohead than the doom of their early peers. The Optimist is worth the wait.
With the emphasis on additional piano and keyboards, there is even more focus on Daniel Cavanagh's song construction, allowing room to breath and develop into huge, epic pieces, full of dramatic peaks and uplifting elements. Leaving It Behind allows Vincent Kavanagh the immediate opportunity to illustrate his amazing heartfelt vocal, the loops providing the backing before the rest of the band kick in to raise the tempo immediately. Endless Ways, the first of several tracks to feature the beautiful voice of Lee Douglas has some stunning string sections whilst the title track sees Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas duet, the song rising to a crescendo before the piano takes over, combining once more with the strings and some crystal clear guitar lines.
It's not all structured and controlled, and whilst title track The Optimist starts with a repeated piano chord and Vincent's solo vocal, before Lee adds echoing backing vocals. It soon transforms into a full blooded, magnificently climbing track which takes the breath away. Springfield, despite its slow pace is a cracker, Lee Douglas giving a beautiful performance, the smouldering intro climbing to a crescendo before dipping slowly back to the serenity of the start whilst Ghosts is simply stunning, Lee Douglas once more allowed time as the track evolves around her.
The electronica influence of bands like Depeche Mode really comes to the fore on the pacey Can't Let Go, Vincent taking the vocals whilst the rest of the band combine with some thumping bass and percussion. The sheer depth and impact of this album necessitates repeated listens, which concludes with the emotional Back To The Start.