Review Summary: Think Circle Takes the Square's As the Roots Undo meets Maudlin of the Well.
There are some bands that just seem to tap into the world of the transcendent. They seem to be creating music that is somehow above all other work currently being composed and are somehow more artistic, profound, poignant, or emotional. One such band that had an almost unanimous effect with that regard was Circle Takes the Square. They struck in 2004 with As the Roots Undo
. The album was ridiculously epic, profound, etc. and critics and fans alike recognized that almost supernatural significance that quickly made Circle Takes the Square the most important emo band around today and gave them instant popularity and more important, instant respect. Their continued growth required internet culture, word of mouth, and the scene of touring and shows, but ultimately their independent label status didn't stop them from getting their name dropped in places as high up (or low down depending on your view) as Rolling Stone magazine. Another such band, Dredg, really grabbed attention in 2002 with El Cielo
. A concept record like As the Roots Undo
, El Cielo
blended the psychedelia of Pink Floyd, the grinding sludge of Tool, tons of sounds from world music, and amazing songwriting, all under the celestial voice of the singer Gavin. They had the benefit of a major label and their distribution ensured that a large number people would be captivated. They too benefited from the embrace of websites like sputnikmusic.com, and El Cielo
has a spot in the hall of fame here alongside As the Roots Undo
. Short of going into every band that seems to transcend the realm of the real (Kayo Dot, Jeff Buckley, and others included), there is an elite collection of bands that all defy normal musical bounds and create something divine.
It would obviously be very premature to claim The Pax Cecilia's Blessed Are the Bonds
has a place among those transcendent albums, but this album has distinct similarities that makes it an interesting prospect. Before getting to those similarities, it's interesting to look at the differences. Blessed Are the Bonds
is self-released. There is no label and the album is completely free (go here to order http://www.paxcecilia.com/contacts.html). These perks imply a smaller budget, which likely correlates to the sparse, stripped down production. Whereas Dredg's production is incredibly lush, full, and warm, and Circle Takes the Square's is claustrophobic, cluttered, and neurotic with its samplings, guitar squeals, and layered vocals, Blessed Are the Bonds
is meat and potatoes. The mix is very clear for most of the album, only getting bogged down on songs with the most distortion ("The Progress"). The production is really good at making the piano and violins, the non-rock band instruments, emerge from the mix without sounding like they're superficial add-ons or just gimicky. They are really well integrated into the "core" instruments in a rock band.
Beyond the production though, this album has uncanny similarities to the aforementioned albums. There is a concept. Don't ask me for any concrete meaning to the lyrics that connect elemental powers to the spirit world and music, all with a sort of matriarchal spin to the whole thing, but there is a concept at work. The lyrics, which are sort of like a less concrete, yet more abstruse version of Drew Speziale's lyrics complement the clarity of the mix and the massiveness of the band's sound. They are still weighty but don't require a college degree to be properly chewed. In addition, all of the albums share in the same aesthetic. There is a mix of influence from heavy music in equal doses as chill music. On Blessed Are the Bonds
there can be 4 minutes of ambient noise followed by crushing metal, or a track of lightly strummed guitar for nine minutes that closes on an epic metallic climax. There is a wonderful mix of singing and screaming, clean guitar and distorted guitar. Thrash drumming and sparsely accented ambient drumming. Overall, this album is an experiment in dualities and balancing tons of different highs and lows in one album. The songwriting is geared towards a more symphonic, through-composed experience than one that embraces typical verse-chorus-verse structures. The music takes on a decidedly post-rock feel when looking at the song structures, orchestration, and songwriting techniques.
However, when you look at the actual instrumental aspects of the album and the way the voices interact, there is a definite slant towards metal and screamo. This album is amazingly heavy despite its long expanses of slow, shimmering arpeggiations, and the heavier sections are the ones that propel and define the album. In post-rock, all of the repeated motives and build-ups are used to create huge crescendos. On Blessed Are the Bonds
, when The Pax Cecilia builds up to these grand moments, they trend towards the heavier genres that the band is influenced by. The crazy thrash guitar of "The Progress" and the emo rhythmic patterns of "The Tree" all reflect the band's fixation on creating crushing climaxes. Even during the slow sections, a lot of the contemplative instrumental work sounds straight out of a Circle Takes the Square song but with the harmonic intrigue of Maudlin of the Well. All of these factors also contribute to the sense of transcendence that surrounds this album. The softer parts are beautiful and mysterious and the heavier parts are relentless and magnificent. Another really cool part of this album is the orchestration. As I mentioned when talking about the production, this album has piano and strings in addition to the core rock-band-type instruments. Instead of being cheesy and melodramatic, these instruments serve as a way of adding depth to the soundscape by including different textures and complicating the interaction between different instruments.
In premise this album is epic, poignant, crushing, etc. It's all of those adjectives people would use to describe any proper amalgam of metal, post-rock, and screamo. However, this album goes beyond what I've been just slapping down on this word processor document. I haven't been stirred by an album like this in a long long time. There is a divine power boiling inside of Blessed Are the Bonds
that makes it feel like the stars are aligning or some shi
t. The album isn't perfect with its minor production issues, but there's mounds and mounds of amazing music here. I just hope this album picks up the momentum that El Cielo
and As the Roots Undo