Review Summary: It's almost worth the mounds of hyperbolic claims it receives.
Circle Takes the Square is an atypical emo band hailing from Georgia. Combining City of Caterpillar and Envy emo/post rock with more thrash/metal aspects, Circle Takes the Square built upon the ideas of their pretentious predecessors and became the
pretentious band of note in the emo scene. Their debut EP and split with Pg. 99 showed a more straightforward version of what was to come, with a more punk-ish feel and less dynamic songwriting. I wasn’t around for its release, but if I had been, I am absolutely sure that As the Roots Undo
would have totally blown me away, as it has since the first time I heard it.
Much is made out of Circle Takes the Square and their “technicality”, especially Drew Speziale’s guitar work. For the most part, the reputation is earned if perhaps a bit exaggerated; the guitar riffs take a lot of influence from thrash, while the drumming is at times heavily grind based. The bass on the album is normally buried due to the production of the album (which everywhere else is absolutely fantastic), but is excellent in the quiet interludes CTTS often throws into songs. The complexity to be found in the music is most often with the songwriting itself, which is the driving force behind all the madness.
Circle Takes the Square has more in common with a band like the Blood Brothers than you may realize- both are incredibly dependent on the vocal interplay and lyrics of their two singers and rely on precise timing in their songs to hit you effectively. The albums dynamics are pretty obvious, they hit you with a frenzied verse, follow it up with a small melodic section, slowly build that up back into chaotic verse, then perhaps an anthemic chorus, all the whilst filled with hooks and live sing-a-long material. Besides “Kill the Switch” this formula generally works incredibly well due to the fact Drew and Kathy know exactly when to switch things up.
As great as the timing of As the Roots Undo
is, and as much as it makes the album that much more musically diverse, the true strength of the album falls upon Drew and Kathy’s vocal performances. The music could survive without them and still be fantastic, but what really draws you in is the passion and creativity in the singing department. While I may have mentioned a Blood Brothers comparison earlier, its pretty much skin deep as Drew and Kathy rely more on harmonization and quick trade-offs. As overstated as it may be, their singing on the album is phenomenal if you look past the fact that they don’t have the prettiest voices in the world. Its filled with passion, but instead of becoming shrieky or falling into unintelligible screaming ala many of their contemporaries, Drew and Kathy remain totally recognizable throughout all of the shouting, screaming, voice cracks (!), and even when Drew’s voice becomes shaky when he has to sing clean for extended periods of time it holds a certain feeling lacking in a lot of singers in modern emo. Combine that with the fact they have excellent vocal melodies and patterns, and its undeniably the strength of the record.
All the parts are here for a perfect record, but all that would be for naught if all of it combined made a static product. At the Roots Undo
has succeeded so much due to how emotionally impacting it is. Emo at its core is about an emotional release within the chaos, and every last song here contains numerous moments which blow you away in that regard. Whether it’s the instrumental buildups in songs like “Non-Objective Portrait of Karma” and “A Crater to Cough In” which slowly build through 4 minutes or 5 minutes until it finally explodes, or “In the Nervous Light of Sunday” which starts off as intense as the two songs that proceed it but ends up reaching a climax which revolves around the clean singing of “An eternal patch on a quilt that hangs from a wall in a throw fraught with our decay…” and the scream of “All I ever asked was for a clean break”.
Despite being the second to last song, As the Roots Undo
culminates with the song “Kill the Switch”. Combining every aspect that makes this album so impacting, “Kill the Switch” begins with arguably the heaviest section of the entire album, and rarely lets up from there. Each lyric, each new guitar riff, each strange little quirk here make this song something special. There are moments where for a split second things drop out and the only sound is a deep exhale, there is the famous (at least around here) “Open up”-”Knock Knock Knock” exchange, and the central climax of the entire album “I know its all been done before/I wanna do it again, I wanna do it again”. The song is totally a mess, the parts often make little sense when thrown together and the transitions are non-existent at times, but “Kill the Switch” embodies the best the album has to offer.
The overarching concept throughout As the Roots Undo
is a journey of self discovery, Drew paints that beautifully with his lyrics throughout the album. Wild metaphors and imagery, imaginative rhyme, and a sense that this is almost true literature really bring the final touch to an album that is arguably the most accessible emo album to ever be recorded. It can be grueling and exhausting at times to sit through, and after you listen to it a hundred times you may get sick of it. In the end though, As the Roots Undo
is an incredibly ambitious effort that exceeds all expectations and truly lives up to the effort that was put into it.
Life is lowly anonymity, in death a noble prose, a Marat David.