San Francisco-based Anaura has just released their fourth studio effort, Champion of the Moon. It is the successor to 2008’s All the Secrets You Know, and exhibits a mature, layered rebirth after hitting their decade milestone this past year. Citing themselves as “dark pop”, the band delivers an atmospheric and multi-faceted set of tracks that will undoubtedly appeal to new sets of ears, while remaining familiar to their current fans.
The mellow but infinitely-layered “Sweet Lover Lost” kicks off the record and sets the mid-tempo pace for the remaining 9 tracks, calling out similarities to acts like The Stills, The Shins, or even older-era Coldplay. Immediately standing out was singer/songwriter Alex Hillmer’s choice of vocal melodies, with the backing vocals soaring in and out as though they were originally composed for a string section. The progressions are well-chosen, well refined, and well executed.
Each song to follow on Champion of the Moon is just as well-crafted and the guitar tones are shockingly perfect, allowing every note to shine as intended. “Vinyl” is a more distorted, straight-forward pop creation the likes of Weezer, “Blood Letter” contains more arranged vocals that rise and fall in a Beatles or Jellyfish-esque fashion, and “Dark Horse” is chalk full of 90’s goodness as the song pounds its way to a climax as though someone put Sunny Day Real Estate into a blender with U2.
Perhaps the most compelling track is the beautiful and driving “Vilipender”, but I find myself wishing for more of the energy offered in “Doves of Dusk” throughout the rest of the album.
There is one main aspect of this release that keep it limited, though:
Anaura has obviously matured and honed itself in during the last 6 years and despite the familiar sound, the band manages to switch lanes just when the listener thinks they have this new album labeled. But they still stay on the highway, and that is the slip here. Fans of continuity will find Champion of the Moon to be assembled appropriately, while others will still be looking for a bigger change and some more excitement. Specifically, this time around there is no gritty, crowd-catching track like their previous “The Devil Was a Friend of Mine”. The writing here tends to stay in the safe zone; perfectly pleasant, with the vocals sitting nicely in their comfortable pocket, and the songs taking chances only in the range that they’re allowed to be in.
Bottom Line: Champion of the Moon is a very welcome rebirth (the strongest release by Anaura to date), and will certainly satisfy dark-pop fans that are longing for another Stills album, or a Kent record that isn’t laden with electronics.
Tracks to check out: “Vilipender”, “Sweet Lover Lost”
Categories: Album Reviews