By Scott McLennan
With this album, post-rock sextet Caspian pulls off the tricky maneuver of infusing blood and emotions into carefully assembled and deliberately delivered songs.
On Circles, Caspian. Triple Crown Records
On its first album since 2015, Caspian confidently lays out an array of fresh ideas while staying true to its core cinematic sound, making On Circles a welcome and dynamic return to action.
The Beverly-bred sextet has been a pioneer and star within the post-rock genre, a largely instrumental offshoot from prog rock and art rock, but quiet since its last album, Dust and Disquiet. While that previous effort was a meditation on grief and loss released after the death of founding bassist Chris Friedrich, On Circles does not follow a central theme. This time out, Caspian let each track unfurl in its own way, adding one more level of texture to the album. Each song itself boasts a broad assortment of sounds and moods that the band masterfully manipulates to achieve a desired effect. The record is at turns beautiful, haunting, joyful, and yearning.
Even though Caspian boasts more guitar firepower than your average band, the instrument doesn’t serve as a default dominant ingredient; if anything, it is new drummer Justin Forrest who holds the effort together, his rhythmic shifts driven by a sharp sense of timekeeping and agile tempo hopping.
“Wildblood” is the opener, and typifies much of what On Circles has to offer: stark contrasts, melodic swells, bursts of emotion that rile the otherwise precise and calculated arrangements that distinguish post-rock from jazz and jam rock.
The fury kicked up on “Wildblood” settles down, or so you think, on the following track, “Flowers of Light.” But after toying with some airy and minimalist passages the band builds up to a gorgeous crescendo. That type of song-to-song dynamic swing works again later in the record with “Onsra” and “Collapser.” The former is a pretty slow burn, decorated with Phil Jamieson’s keyboard work and the majestic mood evoked by the rhythm section; the latter is a heavy metallic stomp.
“Division Blues” proffers the album’s exploratory peak; it is made up of extended guitar forays, ethereal keys bolstered by cello and violin, and a steady build up to an anthemic swell that recedes into a few gentle strums of guitar.
On Circles, in sum, is a collection of short films for the inner eye.
The album’s only misfire is “Nostalgist,” a track featuring lyrics sung by Kyle Durfey, from the band the Pianos Become the Teeth. His gauzy vocal delivery adds little of value; in fact, in some ways it detracts from the instrumentation.
It’s not as if Caspian can’t handle vocals; Jamieson does a splendid job delivering the pensive, poetic lyrics written for album-closer “Circles On Circles.” Set against a folksy acoustic guitar backdrop, Jamison sounds both world weary and accepting on this parting thought.
With this album, Caspian pulls off the tricky maneuver of infusing blood and emotions into carefully assembled and deliberately delivered songs. The group is on tour to support On Circles and is playing April 3 and 4 at the Sinclair in Cambridge, MA.
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to The Boston Globe, The Providence Journal, The Portland Press Herald and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.