by Tirhakah Love (@GoonTherapy)
It’s not often an indie artist builds up enough caché with their audience to justify a greatest hits record. Even less likely, an artist does so only after a smooth decade in the indie game. But Californian singer-songwriter, Eric Anders, can say he’s done both in his acoustic compilation album, Big World Abide. Piecing together some of his most intriguing work from the start of his career (Not at One, 2003) to his latest work (Tethered to the Ground, 2006), Anders maintains the narrative-driven serenade that is as politically pointed as it is personally revealing.
Big World Abide is hushed but not shy. The album opens with Anders hit, “Tethered to the Ground,” a measured unfolding track exhibiting Anders endearing fatalism–a perspective garnered from feeling and “reeling” from the violence of colonialism. His slow strum eases the audience into a rich musical texture featuring Anders soft alto and tight background vocal mixing by Jeff Peters (of Beach Boys and Brian Setzer fame). Big World Abide sounds like a comprehensive project that sees Anders leaping from feeling the personal loss of love to the political loss of land. Even when the themes seem predictable, Anders does a great job of leading us elsewhere. On the song, “Remembering On My Own,” it feels like we’re about to go on a long boring trip down memory lane (reminiscient of a certain Nickleback track) with the line, “Tears from this photograph cut me to the bone.” But in actuality Anders looks to become whole after heartbreak by courageously jumping into self, “Can’t I get beyond? Can I find a way to make me whole?” This kind of lyrical depth kept me engaged even when I felt the instrumentation might’ve become a bit stale.
Though the narrative-driven lyricism can dip into vague platitudes. Such is the case on “Blister in the Sun,” where Anders wavering vocals are piercing but the lyrical progression from predictable to abstract is a bit sudden. What does it really mean to “let us go on like a blister in the sun?” I’m not really sure. This seldom happens though, and the sparsity of examples just exemplifies Peters and Anders selectivity. I’m not a huge of Anders’ pitchyness–wavering vocals can be a hamfisted attempt to add dynamism to pedestrian talent–but its welcome on tracks like “Icarus” in which his soprano operates as a voice for the titular character. His lyrical gymnastics on this record are pretty stellar — painting Icarus’ wings as a double edged sword; a symbol of freedom but also a cursed incentive to distance himself from the person he loves.
Big World Abide is an album that ultimately comes down to identity though. Most of these tracks are taken directly from the work Anders gets most pride from, Tethered to the Ground, and its no wonder that the overtly political thematic choices are hyperaudible on this record. “Justice and Genocide” is a history lesson on the counterintuitiveness of killing for peace while his perspective work, “Settlin’ Comes” is written from the eyes of a traveling native awaiting the end of the settlement period. Each song emphatically challenges the colonial tendencities of civilized nations and the violence with which civilizing is carried about.
Undoubtedly, Eric Anders version of a greatest hits record acts as a great entrypoint into his career. Emotionally rich and lyrically complex, Big World Abide is a tight collection of work that dips into repetition but is saved by its thematic depth. A worthwhile work to check out for all acoustic fans searching for palpable, cathartic, and high-minded musicality.
Listen to Big World Abide here.