Review Summary: The group's first offering breaks little new ground, but nevertheless is an excellent contribution to the post-rock sound.
Caspian's debut will come as no surprise to fans of instrumental post rock. By the time this EP was released (2005), the genre had settled into a comfortable niche, with many of its most popular bands eschewing experimentation and dissonance in favor of a smooth, plaintive sound that is, in some ways, what New Age is to ambient music in general (though without most of the unsavory cultural associations). Having passed through its stages of innovation and rapid development, the aim of listening to post rock changed; the point is not to find the most experimental, forward-thinking, or unusual sounds, but to locate the best aesthetic examples - the ones that fulfill the artistic demands of the genre most fully. In this, Caspian's EP succeeds brilliantly.
Album opener "Quovis" serves merely as an introduction, a short tune with a loping, dignified melody that's vaguely Celtic in character. "Further Up" is a dead-ringer for Explosions in the Sky
, with a driving beat anchoring reverb-drenched, somber guitar. "Further In" follows, built around an intense rhythm in 3/4 time and overlaid with xylophone and interlocking guitar lines. In both "Further In" and "Further Out" the group works in familiar melodic and harmonic terrirory, but manages to maintain momentum over rhythms that are so peppy they're almost danceable - a word one will almost never hear used to describe anything in this milieu.
By the time the group reaches the fourth tune on the disc, "Loft", it'll probably hit most listeners that things are going by awfully fast. As beautiful and luminous as the first three tracks were, it sure sounds as if the band is burning the candle at both ends, and, in fact, they are - neither song cracks five minutes, and "Further In" doesn't even hit three. But mastering short-form instrumental pieces was in vogue that year; recall Mogwai
's Mr. Beast, on which not a single song hit the five-minute mark. "Loft" finally stretches things out, reaching six and a half minutes on a languid, crunchy progression that once again veers into Mogwai territory. "For Protection" is more or less a bridge piece between tracks four and six, consisting mostly of ambient guitar in the vein of Stars of the Lid
; it offers a breather between "Loft" and the album's longest track, closer "Last Rites". "Last Rites" opens with cavernous echo (the sort of recorded-in-a-cave sound that Godspeed You! Black Emperor
made famous) on a slow, winsome guitar melody. The tune progresses from soft to loud without speeding up, maintaining a steady, dirgelike pace as it accumulates layers of guitar which reach ever higher. A quiet interlude breaks in and brings the song to what sounds like an end; several seconds of silence follow before a new melody is introduced to quietly close the song out.
It's nothing unexpected, really; to the casual listener or the experienced collector, the album won't feel groundbreaking or phenomenally new. The key is in the execution; the compositions are first-rate, the arrangement and performance is graceful and powerful, and the production is excellent. Caspian won't make any history books as innovators, but what they have done is offer up some of the most well-developed and well-curated post rock of recent vintage. High marks for a beautiful first effort.