Released: February 17, 2009
Label: The Militia Group
By: Eric Garza
Having exploded into the hearts of listeners everywhere, “emo” darlings The Appleseed Cast established themselves with their 1998 debut, The End of the Ring Wars, providing emotionally fueled, guitar driven rock songs. However, in 2000’s Mare Vitalis, the band found themselves evolving from moody angst to a more progressive, atmospheric blend of guitar arpeggios and crescendos, showing that they were capable of bigger and better things. Then, in 2001, The Appleseed Cast found themselves being described as “America’s answer to Radiohead,” after the release of the double album, Low Level Owl: Vols. 1 and 2. These albums displayed a mastery of post-rock instrumentation and musicianship. Now, the reason I detail this background trivia is for the purpose of my review on their latest effort, Sagarmatha, and that purpose is this: Progression.
Sagarmatha, which is Nepalese for Mount Everest, presents The Appleseed Cast at their peak (yes, pun intended), with a complete grasp over their sound and knowing full well their strengths and how to implement them to good use. This is the album the band has been striving to create, and they finally delivered. To which I say, better late than never.
Sagarmatha is an album that will be loved, hated, tolerated or ignored based on the listeners current state of mind. It is 95% instrumental in nature, and the majority of the songs are over six minutes in length, allowing the music to completely draw the listener in to send them on a whirlwind tour through their thoughts, emotions and memories. Here, vocals find themselves filling the role of an “instrument,” as opposed to a focus point, which is brilliant. If Chris Crisci’s dreary and mellow voice stumbles its way into a song, and this is few and far between, his words are raised no higher than the instrumentation itself and serve more as a rhythm to the music rather than a driving narrative. This allows the music itself to take center stage and frankly, there is no need for vocals when the music successfully crafts such a brilliant sound scape, painting beautiful pictures in your head without the unnecessary guidance of contrived spoken imagery.
The album opens beautifully with the staggering 8-minute epic, “As the Little Things Go.” Here, the TAC proudly display their genius over creating mood and feel while also showing their ability to capture the subconscious of the listener as clean guitars dance in and out over scattered drum beats before rising into a heavy crash of post-rock dominance and treating the listener to a wave of nearly indecipherable, but perfectly executed, vocals for the final two minutes.
The band shines on the instrumental “The Road West,” which opens soft and sincere with rising guitar melodies and an electronic drumbeat before erupting into a full band orchestration shortly after the two minute mark, eventually dwindling back to a steady drum beat backed by keyboards, xylophones and effects-ridden guitars. “The Summer Before” is the only track on the album that has vocals straight through, which are soaked in reverb and makes the word “Arizona” feel as beautiful and dreamy as the music accompanying it. “One Reminder, an Empty Room” finds TAC implementing an acoustic guitar-driven intermission before making way onto the superb “Raise the Sails,” where TAC take the listener on a dream-like voyage from a dark and mysterious opening, to a vocally-driven upbeat midsection, before ending on a crashing and heavy outro channeling the likes of Tortoise and Mogwai.
If there are any negatives to be said about Sagarmatha, it’s that the final few tracks cannot seem to find their place within the album. Considering how grand every song feels at the forefront of the album, each rising to epic-level proportions in crescendos and decrescendos alike, I was hoping the album would conclude as solidly and grandiose as it had begun. This is not to say these songs are necessarily “bad,” on the contrary, they are good in their own right, it’s just that they don’t seem to fit hand-in-hand with the tracks that lead into them.
“Like A Locust (Shake Hands with the Dead)” is driven by electronics and falls completely flat and out of step with the rest of the songs and could have been left off entirely. The closing track, “An Army of Fireflies,” feels like a song the band may have written years ago when trying to capture what they produce at the beginning of the album, which is a shame because it ends the record on a somewhat sour note.
These, however, are minor qualms with an otherwise very solid release from The Appleseed Cast. This album sees the band finally reaching a status they have long been striving to achieve since breaking into the scene over a decade ago, and that place is amidst the greats in the post-rock world.
Sagarmatha will likely divide audiences, with many finding solitude, comfort and therapy in these extended rivers of rhythm and feel, and others finding themselves impatient with the lack of vocals and non-traditional song structure. But if you’re willing to give them a chance, their mastery over their craft is sure to draw out your emotions and memories, both good and bad. And who doesn’t want to revisit that which we try so hard to forget?