As a fan of experimental and psychedelic rock, and of bands that push boundaries beyond what is normally accepted such as The Mars Volta, I was extremely pleased to discover that their frontman, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, became involved in a new project, including former musicians from grunge rock bands Nirvana and The Melvins, a band called Anywhere in 2012. Listening to their exclusive record store day limited pressing of their debut self-titled album, Anywhere sounded like a mix between tribal music, world, progressive rock, and transcendentalism, with Eastern European musical influences and a feeling like they travelled to the top of a Tibetan retreat to channel their music. Maybe it's this eclectic mix that gave them their name, as it sounds like the music itself originates from a multitude of places.
Six years later, Anywhere comes back to drop their sequel, Anywhere II, as another record store day exclusive with limited pressings. Knowing that this was an opportunity not to pass up, I jumped on my own copy of their vinyl, and dove in to what in my mind was a hotly anticipated follow-up album. This sophomoric effort contains the same essence and style of its predecessor, but whereas Anywhere's debut album felt like a timeless classic, their sequel album, Anywhere II, more so feels like an album out of time.
The album's opener and second track get it off to a pretty strong start, creating a heavy, dissonant, rocker that pays off with an epic and melodic chord progression, landing on a very solid statement for the rest of the album. The second track, "Light The Portals", instantly sounds like a Zeppelin channeled tune, with a spirit and charisma that is infectious and worth many repeated listens. It's a sound that is close to their original sound on their debut, and related enough to fit in to their new musical palette exhibited here, and while it sounds like a clear tribute to Zeppelin, the band strives to make "Light The Portals" their own.
At this point in the album, it's worth noting that Anywhere II is the strongest at its bookends, which is to say that it's the best possible outcome for an album that seems to miss some marks and opportunities as it ventures into the centerfold of instrumental jams. That's not to say that the middle of the album doesn't also have its moments.
"Moon Burnt Mountain" is a enjoyable take, reminiscent of older Pink Floydian Umma Gumma Studio jams, but it's familiar style has already been covered before many times over, and seems like the band was just having fun and not feeling too serious in this moment.
As songs that feel like they strongly channel musical legends from the 70's era prog and psychedelia, it has a quality of accessibility and enjoyment, but without the awe factor, which I found to be a little unfortunate.
"Sunset Ruins" makes for a great slow-building, driving acoustic force to be reckoned with, as it builds into a western influenced musical crescendo, and "Flamenco Youth" is easily the most energetic and exciting of the batch of instrumentals, but it feels like, as the final jam before we get to more vocals, there's a slightly underwhelmed sentiment left by the series of compositions that came before it, and excitement feels almost wasted before Anywhere II arrives at some of the real electrifying tracks of the album.
Fortunately for the band, the last couple tracks swoop in to save the day. "Astrophysical Graffiti" boasts mathy rock riffs as Naima Mora's vocals soar for the ultimate release from the long vocal break. "You and I will spread our wings," Mora sings, "and fly away from here", before the band takes off again into a frenetic riff explosion. The feeling of transportation is real with this sequel throughout their many different influences and melodies, and it's most apparent and described in Mora's lyrics. "Olompali", follows with a slower, hazy, and otherworldly tune, with Bret Constantino's voice taking a turn to drawl out Doors-y vocals, swooning listeners into a trance-like state that becomes reminiscent of some of the slower 60's tune "The End", which is just a coincidence. Before too long, this same track takes off into a full rock chord and speeds into it's finale. A fitting conclusion, as Consantino sings, "and the emptiness is gone" to dissonant guitar solos and a storm of drums. Anywhere display in their sequel that they certainly know how to fill a space.
As a seeming tribute to many classic and progressive rock bands that have come before, it's a successful collage of imitations that will please any fans of hard rock, progressive, or psychedelia. It still feels as if Anywhere II could have benefitted from a couple more vocal tracks throughout its runtime, considering that vocals are primarily absent from the main body of the album, and that some of the instrumentals seem like they could have simply been born out of a weekend of studio jamming. The instrumentation is fun, but nothing here is groundbreaking or new, and a couple of tracks feel as if the band lost focus after creating the first half of the song and let it fall apart after developing their songs' early ideas, as most of them seem to fixate on their chosen riff and melody and ride it out for the duration of the song.
For an album that tries to give the impression of being progressive, adventurous, and daring, I personally didn't hear very much songwriting that sounded like the band was willing to take risks or venture out from the safety or familiarity of their already established style. Unfortunately, it makes for an experience that is interesting and enjoyable, but also tends to venture dangerously close to turning into a mediocre and somewhat boring time, leaving a desire for more from a band that produced such a strong debut album. Although I have to admit that Anywhere II has grown on me over the past week, I still have a hard time shaking my initial feelings of the album: waiting for more vocal tracks throughout the middle and instead getting treated to 5 separate jams which display interesting ideas, yet remain singular in their execution. Despite this main criticism I have of the album, Anywhere remain a rock supergroup that shan't be ignored, and are cementing their place in progressive and psychedelic rock consciousness.
Anywhere II - 8/10