optimist /??pt?m?st/ noun: optimist; plural noun: optimists
1. apersonwhotendstobehopefulandcon dentaboutthefutureorthesuccessof something.
2. apersonwhobelievesthatthisworldisthebestofallpossibleworldsorthatgoodmust ultimately prevail over evil.
The title for Anathema’s eleventh full-length would also serve well in describing the Liverpool sextet’s uncompromising dedication
to fearless artistry since forming in 1990. They’ve continually evolved by placing hope in the future – from leaving the underground
scene they were fundamental in establishing to continually mesmerising the world with stargazing post- progressive alternative
rock that knows no borders. Led by brothers Daniel and Vincent Cavanagh, along with drummer John Douglas, singer Lee Douglas,
bassist Jamie Cavanagh and keyboardist/drummer Daniel Cardoso – this is a band that have forsaken all notion of expectation
– highly evocative music simply pours out of them. And in a world of plastic conformists so desperately awaiting their moment
of recognition, it’s a potent truth very much needed...
“We’ve been honest with ourselves from the start in writing deeply personal music,” admits lead singer/multi-instrumentalist
Vincent. “It’s just that in the earlier days, it was cloaked in heavier instrumentation. When you’re a teenager, it’s natural
to want to go ‘all or nothing’. We had a 23-minute ambient piece, classical ideas, multi-layered guitar harmonies, acoustic
folky stu , reversed tape experiments, long psychedelic sections, spoken word... all of that. But we quickly learned that
the best way to get to the core of emotion in music is to strip away the layers. Melody is everything, then lyrics, rhythm
and bass. Is it meaningful? Does it move you? Start with that...
if the answer is yes, then you can start to think about experimenting.”
Despite those early records being hailed as classics, the band left their heavier roots and transcended into a more emotional
heaviness that resonated deep within the heart of the listener. Alternative 4 (1998), Judgement (1999), A Fine Day To Exit
(2001) and A Natural Disaster (2003) marked an era of bold experimentation for the band – taking the notion of self-exploration
to its furthest limits – before 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here truly cemented their stature as world-beating post-progressive
“Any musical growth we have achieved has been a natural process,” says lead songwriter Daniel Cavanagh. “From our early bass
player Duncan Patterson’s Pink Floyd-leanings onwards, we’ve never really looked back. We feel lucky to have developed into
a writing team that at times can feel telepathic. Oh and by the way – if we wanted to sell out, we would never have changed
After 2012’s award-winning Weather Systems and 2014’s spellbinding Distant Satellites, the ambient rockers are back with their
eleventh full-length, The Optimist: some of the darkest, most challenging and – quite frankly – unexpected music they’ve put
their name to. It twists and turns like no album before it, bringing miraculous wide-eyed wonder to even the most well-versed
of fans. Recorded in the winter of 2016 and produced by Tony Doogan [Mogwai, Belle & Sebastien, Super Furry Animals] at Attica
Audio in Donegal and Castle Of Doom studios in Glasgow, the?11 tracks of The Optimist manage to somehow push more boundaries
then ever before, yet remaining forever loyal to the heart of every song. It could very well be their greatest masterpiece
yet – stemming from an idea rst planted in the artwork for A Fine Day To Exit all those years ago. Daniel Cavanagh explains
how its front cover became an unlikely source of inspiration...
“I suppose you might say the album is semi-autobiographical because this time we used?a surrogate,” he says, of the character
that is The Optimist. “We put sound, feelings and crucially, our own hopes and fears into another person and made him the
subject of the songs. I also began to write with visual stimuli more this time, using the feelings evoked by a certain image
or moment and then weaving my own internal monologue into the narrative of The Optimist. It was John’s idea to write a narrative,
so I took A Fine Day To Exit as the starting point. The brilliant songs of Vincent and John t right in... we were a single
mind during this writing process.
“The guy who disappeared – you never knew what happened to him,” shrugs Vincent. “Did he start a new life? Did he succumb
to his fate? It was never explained. The opening track title is the exact coordinates for Silver Strand beach in San Diego
– the last known location of The Optimist – shown on the cover of A Fine Day to Exit.”
The character’s unresolved destiny was something that fascinated the three songwriting members and together they meticulously
brought the un nished story to an end – and most strikingly of all – one which is decided by the listener.
“Most of the songs are happening within the mind of the character,” adds Daniel, “and we intentionally left things open to
interpretation. His feelings, his path, his fate, are ultimately up to the listener. It is for others to t in the missing
pieces from their own narrative... these songs are ambiguous.”
From the screaming guitar-driven post-rock of Spring eld to the lmscore jazz noir brilliance of Close Your Eyes to the cerebral
electronica of San Francisco, The Optimist is a journey?full of wonder – each track carrying a kaleidoscopic spell of its
own. It also marks a darker sound for the band in quite some time – perhaps most notably Daniel’s spine-tingling vocals on
Wild res circling around haunting piano chords before Vincent warns ‘It’s too late.’ By their own admission, it’s a darkness
rooted in themes around mental and emotional struggles – how all of us, in some way or another, are forced into battles we
can’t tangibly see in front of us...
“There’s always been a stigma around mental health because it’s invisible,” says Daniel,?“and thankfully that is changing.
Many people go through this kind of thing. One in four of?the population I believe... it is as normal as any other illness,
there’s nothing to be ashamed?of. Things are better now, but the last few years haven’t been too easy and it came out in the
music. I kept writing these dark piano moments like Wild res or Spring eld, which Vincent and John felt was the best material
Vincent, who undertook all of the pre-production duties in London before the band began tracking in Donegal and Glasgow, agrees
there are de nitely moments that feel unusually bleak and ominous in comparison to their more recent meditations. “There are
moments?on every song that put you on edge,” he nods. “When everything kicks in it sounds fucking massive – which, in a large
part, is thanks to Tony. The rst thing he suggested was the drum sound. He knew we wanted something ‘big’ so he suggested
Attica, which has this enormous stone-walled live room with a high ceiling. He didn’t need to do a lot of tweaking, it already
sounded massive – from there we were on to a winner. The second thing he suggested was that we record as a live band, which
we hadn’t done for years. Having played a few tunes on the last tour, we were ready for that. Tony wanted to capture that
energy you can only get with everyone facing each other... it makes a big di erence. He was a superb guy to work with and
I learned a lot making this record.”
Whatever the secret is – with undoubtedly The Album of 2017 under their belts, it de nitely seems to be working. Theirs is
a name built on the most soul-baring and introspective forms of artistic expression. Rightfully so, Anathema’s shooting star
looks set to burn perpetually brighter and brighter.