32.63N 117.14W (1:17), Leaving it Behind (4:28), Endless Ways (5:50), The Optimist (5:37), San Francisco (5:00), Springfield (5:50), Ghosts (4:17), Can't Let Go (5:01), Close your Eyes (3:39), Wildfires (5:39), Back to the Start (11:43)
Patrick McAfee's Review
Anathema is a very good band who, in my opinion, has not yet released a truly classic album. They have come close at times, and several of their songs are amongst my favorites of the last ten years. At thier best, there are few better bands, and it always seems that their complete masterpiece is right around the corner. I go into each album release thinking: "Will this be the one?"
To some extent, The Optimist follows the same musical pattern as the band's last few albums. There is also something different about it both musically and structure wise. Everything that you would expect from Anathema is there, but there is an apparant drive for a fresh approach. The short opening track establishes a concept that references back to an earlier album, A Fine Day to Exit. Leaving it Behind, the proper first song, immediately showcases the contrast from previous work. Initially driven by a sparse dubstep-like beat, the track ultimately builds into an strong and engaging rocker. Endless Love starts like one of those beautiful ballads that Lee Douglas excells at, but it too morphs into a heavier, more complex territory.
The brilliant title track is a stunner. It's one of those signature songs that can be used as an introduction for anyone unfamiliar with the band. The instrumental, San Francisco continues the string of diversity and excellent songs. That's what struck me right away about this album. Whereas previous Anathema releases had some significant highs and lows, there is a truly consistent quality to The Optimist.
As always, the vocal work of Daniel Cavanaugh and Lee Douglas is a true highlight. Springfield is a perfect example of what is special about this band. Their ability to take a simple melody, and turn it into something truly compelling is impressive. Ghosts, with its brilliant performance by Douglas, displays a stunningly effective mood, and is another highlight. Can't Let Go shifts the album into a more upbeat tone, yet it doesn't feel at all out of place.
Close Your Eyes, strikes a smoky jazz tone and is another example of the band effectively stretching their sound into other areas. Wildfire begins quietly, but steadily becomes a pulsating, distorted and even unnerving song.
Opening in a bluegrass-like manner, Back to the Start, is another significant and interesting change of pace. The song ends the album in a memorable and even dramatic way. It bears mentioning that the length noted above for this track is deceiving. The song actually ends at the seven minute mark, which is followed by a few minutes of silence. This leads into a short acoustic guitar piece accompanied by what appears to be the natural sounds of a home.
The Optimist is an extremely solid and entertaining release, and after a few listens, I can easily say that this is my personal favorite Anathema album. It is as close to a classic that the band has recorded to date. Everything about it works, and it is exciting to hear the band successfully go into different directions. Throughout their career, Anathema has a created a memorable library of music, and with this, their eleventh studio album, they have outdone themselves. Lyrically compelling and musically engaging, The Optimist is a rousing success and easily one of the best releases of 2017.
Calum Gibson's Review
Having been a casual fan of Anathema for many years, in particular the A Fine Day To Exit era, but then finding the We're Here Because We're Here era a bit too "light and poppy", I was quite intrigued by the lead single, Springfield, from their latest album, which I heard while going through a YouTube binge.
So I went into this album with fresh hope that the band has changed from the light, pop-driven sound, to a more progressive and post-rock style.
Initial thoughts are good. Leaving It Behind kicks the album off with a good, fast beat, while the guitars bring some of the shoegaze/post rock sound to it. The track could have finished about a minute earlier, but aside from that it is a good opener and sets the bar relatively high for the album.
The rest of the album not only meets that bar, but often smashes it. It is ethereal, shoegazey, post-rock bliss. Calming drums, smooth bass, fast tremolos on the guitar, all matched by Lee Douglas's outstanding vocals, meld together to create a brilliant album. I would say that the standout tracks are Endless Ways and Springfield.
An interesting wee fact about the album, is that the coordinates from the first track title are pointing to Silver Strand Beach in San Diego county, the location that is shown on the cover of A Fine Day to Exit.
For me, this is a fantastic return to form, featuring the best bits from their past albums, and melding them together to create a masterpiece of melancholy prog. As a band that once were hailed as one of the "Peaceville Three", along with Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, the band have come a long way from their death/doom metal roots. They have evolved beautifully over the years into a mature group with a clear sound. If you're a fan of Anathema from any era, you will like this album that offer a great blend of post-rock, shoegaze, electronic and general prog rock goodness.