Review Summary: Forgive me such a cliche, but Blue Sky Noise is the Circa Survive album for people who don't like Circa Survive.
It’s worth mentioning that I chose to open my last review on this site, a review of Children of Nova’s The Complexity of Light
, with the following sentence: “It’s somewhat ironic that Circa Survive have become the poster children for this whole indie/prog movement, when nearly every one of their contemporaries one-ups them in terms of technicality, songwriting, etc; (Closure in Moscow and The Dear Hunter immediately come to mind).” I mention this not to shill for my review or the band, but to give you a sense of where I’m coming from in terms of my relationship with Circa Survive: to be blunt, I don’t like them. My one prior bit of exposure to them was their debut album Juturna
, an album I found incessant in its ability to sap the fun, energy and creativity out of a potentially fruitful musical style (and after hearing that followup On Letting Go
was more of the same but a little worse, I wasn’t exactly incensed to the record store). So color me shocked and relieved to find out that Blue Sky Noise
, the band’s latest outing, is actually not only tolerable, but actively engaging and invigorating. It’s not the most consistent record I’ve heard this year, but it gives me some hope that the ridiculous amount of hype the band has received over their career isn’t just, well, hype.
The album begins with a brilliant one-two punch in the way of “Strange Terrain” and “Get Out”, two of the album’s most accessible tracks, and also immediate standouts, with “Strange Terrain” in particular bouncing along with an energy and enthusiasm the band has rarely displayed. The guitar lines, painfully simple as they may be, also evoke a certain simple joy, and build wonderfully to an absolutely killer chorus. Anthony Green restrains his naturally high singing voice (to great effect), perhaps as something of a build-up to “Get Out”, which sees him unleashing it in all its nasally glory (OK, that’s unfair: Green is actually spot on throughout the record). Simultaneously heavy and poppy, it’s a natural choice for lead single, and features some surprisingly excellent musical moments as well, including a sublime slide guitar line during the chorus, a tapped bridge, and a pseudo-bluesy guitar riff in the outro; make no mistake, Circa Survive aren’t just The Anthony Green band anymore. Better yet is what “Strange Terrain” and “Get Out” indicate for the direction the band are going in; rather than get caught up in trying to create some epic progressive masterpiece, Blue Sky Noise
sees Circa Survive finally having fun
with their music.
That’s not to say that the album doesn’t have any progressive touches; rather, these touches are fleshed out into their own compelling tracks. “Through The Desert Alone” finds the band actually resembling the progressive outfits they’ve been struggling to emulate for years, complete with a great bass line courtesy of bassist Nick Beard. “Frozen Creek” is similarly a realization of long-kept ambitions from the band: they finally stop trying to write “Televators”, and in the process they ***ing write their
“Televators”. “Frozen Creek” is a mixed blessing: on one hand, it could potentially be the album’s best track; on the other hand, it sets the bar so high that everything following it is a relative disappointment. That’s really the main problem with Blue Sky Noise
: the momentum created by its excellent first half is thoroughly let down by its second. Following “Frozen Creek”, the album throws out a string of duds: “Fever Dreams” and “The Longest Mile” are fairly unremarkable in the overall picture of the album, while “Spirit of the Stairwell” is the more directly disappointing of the bunch. It attempts to invoke a soulful nature, but said soul feels hollow; the parts are all there, but they feel as though assembled by machines, not a band. “Spirit of the Stairwell” is more or less the opposite of “Frozen Creek”; in attempting to emulate a certain sound (rather than having said sound naturally occur), the song feels decidedly calculated. And while I admire the band for attempting an instrumental piece, “Compendium” feels just like an extended intro at best and completely unnecessary at worst. The album ends on a high note with “Dyed in the Wool” but it alone can’t save the album’s tragically uneven final songs from being overtaken by its first half. Still, while Blue Sky Noise
doesn’t totally realize the grand ambition of its predecessors, it succeeds by dropping this ambition almost entirely, and instead focusing on delivering a killer collection of songs. I still don’t care for the cult of Green that has established around the band, but at the very least the utterance of the words “Circa Survive” in my company are no longer met with scoffs and fake poop noises. Hey, baby steps, right?