On Circles

Written by: AP on 17/05/2020 22:21:40

I began writing this review in the midst of the worst pandemic the world has seen in more than a century, and while Caspian naturally did not foresee the calamity when they wrote their latest album “On Circles”, it nonetheless arouses a peculiar sense of pertinency with regard to these strange and difficult times. The Beverly, MA-born instrumental post-rock unit have always had a penchant for creating soundtracks to life itself; tunes to lean on when things seem at their darkest, songs to celebrate moments of triumph, and tracks that offer room for meditation and reflection. I am sure I speak for a lot of people and say that these pas months have witnessed all of the above, from the dawn of a new year and all the optimism that comes with it to the onslaught of an unseen enemy, and the inevitable realisation that our lives are always just on the brink of transformation — for better or worse. And if, like mine, your thoughts flow best when immersed in music, there is likely no better candidate to help you achieve clarity in the midst of all of this than “On Circles”, which, in retrospect, arrived exactly at the right time.

If you are already familiar with Caspian, “On Circles” is unlikely to offer you too many surprises, but the listening experience is nonetheless pretty different to its predecessor, 2015’s “Dust and Disquiet”. Whereas that record was more patiently built up and tended toward the darker recesses of post-rock, the tone of “On Circles” is, for the most part, noticeably uplifting and not as subtle in trying to capture the listener’s imagination. As is the band’s custom, the music delivers an overload of melody, with synths and keyboards, pedal steel and a staggering four guitars weaving together to form soundscapes that are unbelievably sumptuous, yet always layered in such a way that each instrument has a distinct signature even in the greatest walls of sound that rise out of some of these tracks. But while such epic surges and the deftness with which they are juxtaposed with calmer emotions remains the impetus behind Caspian’s music and inducts the likes of “Wildblood” and “Flowers of Light” into the crème de la crème of the band’s repertoire, I was surprised to find it was one of the more muted songs here, “Nostalgist”, that kept haunting me after the first time I had listened to “On Circles”. It is a wistful and downtrodden piece that verges on ‘90s emo, not least by virtue of an excellent cameo from Pianos Become the Teeth’s Kyle Durfey. It is a rare thing to hear vocals on a track by Caspian, but this joint venture really feels like it was meant to be considering how close the two bands are from an instrumental perspective; PBTT play emo with a strong undercurrent of post-rock, and Caspian post-rock with a highly emotive character. And ultimately, it also seems to have inspired guitarist, keyboardist and primary songwriter Philip Jamieson to air his own honey-dipped voice as he plucks an acoustic guitar in the bittersweet closing track “Circles on Circles”.

Ironically, despite the fact that “On Circles” is the first album by Caspian that Jamieson did not want to contextualise into a greater narrative, emotional ambivalence seems subconsciously to have crept into his writing and formed a kind of theme for all of these songs anyway. Clarity and confusion, hope and despair, and comfort and disquiet are but some of the contrasting sensations experienced during the lifespan of these eight songs through passages of muffled shoegazing, towering crescendos and storms of heavy, darkened dread as brought about by the stunning “Collapser”. The record does feel like a collection of individual songs more so than “Dust and Disquiet”, mind you, with the group now truly embracing their penchant for building and releasing suspense as an art form in its own right and eschewing the pressure of having to live up to a reputation as a so-called ‘thinking man’s band’. The Bostonian band’s liberal approach works too, resulting in an exemplary work of post-rock, though if it was something groundbreaking you came looking for, then “On Circles” will inevitably disappoint by way of catering to an already existing idea of the genre.

I’m not going to lie — it took me months to gather my thoughts and finish writing this review, with my motivation to do anything dwindling in sync with the deteriorating situation around the world. I did not stop listening to “On Circles” though, and as melodramatic as it sounds, it was one of the more recent albums that I have continued to return to for some kind of optimism, solace, or a path to acceptance while I’ve been lying on the couch, lost in thought. Caspian’s music has always had this effect on me, but this fifth and latest offering from the Massachusetts six-piece delivers some of the most cathartic material they have written to date. So if you are looking for music to immerse yourself in, something to provide the soundtrack to your times of reflection, it is hard to imagine a better candidate than this.


Download: Wildblood, Flowers of Light, Nostalgist, Collapser, Ishmael
For the fans of: If These Trees Could Talk, pg.lost, sleepmakeswaves, This Will Destroy You
Listen: Facebook

Release date 24.01.2020
Triple Crown Records

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