Release Date: Jun 9, 2017
Record label: Kscope
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Neo-Prog
Going back to an earlier album for inspiration isn't usually a winning strategy, but Anathema are no ordinary band. The muse for The Optimist is the unaccounted-for protagonist from 2001's A Fine Day to Exit. The final sounds on that record were waves lapping on a shoreline. They introduce opener "32.63N 117.14W." These are the coordinates for Silver Strand Beach in San Diego, the last known whereabouts of that character.
A thematic sequel to 2001's A Fine Day To Exit, Anathema's 11th studio album is every bit as beautiful and absorbing as fans have become accustomed to. Less experimental than 2014's fractious and melancholy Distant Satellites, The Optimist showcases the blissful chemistry that now exists within this particular line-up. There are still plenty of looped electronics and skittering beats lurking amid the sumptuous wash of multitracked guitars on the likes of Endless Ways and San Francisco, but there's also an urgency that highlights what a great, straightforward rock band Anathema have become over the last 27 years.
It can't be easy being Anathema sometimes. Emerging as more of a doom metal outfit in the early Nineties, they've slowly changed direction ever since, and now in 2017 they're makers of gloriously widescreen prog-rock, something that I'm willing to bet their early, more hardcore fans still find hard to take. Still, detractors and I-remember-when-they-were-heavier pedants aside, they're easily one of the most interesting and creative bands currently sifting around the country, regardless of genre.
2001's A Fine Day to Exit was an important album for Anathema, as it marked a transition between the gloomier edge of its late '90s catalog (which, oddly enough, was somewhat recaptured on 2004's A Natural Disaster, alongside a strong electronica influence) and the much brighter and more symphonic modern palette that began fully on 2010's comeback of sorts, We're Here Because We're Here. (It also ended with what is arguably still their most beautiful and poetic creation, "Temporary Peace”, especially the closing lyric/melody combination. ) It's only somewhat surprising, then, that the sextet's latest studio record, The Optimist, is a spiritual successor to it regarding both sound and story.
Anathema have come a long, long way - starting out as what is now generally regarded as a not very good rock band back in 1993 and shifting gradually over the course of eleven albums into a band that can be as ambient as they are progressive. By this we mean to say you're as likely to hear Anathema rocking out as you are to hear them crafting something soulful and piano-driven. Produced by Tony Doogan (whose credits include both Mogwai and Belle & Sebastian, a potentially odd mix that seem to find their apotheosis in Anathema, who straddle that noise-pop axis with under-rated aplomb) who encouraged the band to record live in the studio (which they hadn't done in years), The Optimist finds the band exploring new territory.