Review Summary: Innovation is not in and of itself a virtue.
Innovation is not in and of itself a virtue. Too much weight, it would therefore seem, is often placed on a band’s pursuit of new directions within a well-established genre, on their so-called ‘originality’. For this all so commonly amounts to nothing more than nouveau pour le nouveau
, a blind fumbling about in desperate search of novelty. The results hardly ever live up to the hype that usually surrounds a release that promises to ‘revolutionise’ or ‘radically redefine’ a genre, and the thoughtless enthusiasm that’s typically showered on such shallow displays of experimentation makes it all the more insufferable.
Such is the case with Circle Takes the Square’s As the Roots Undo
. The album’s shortcomings are indeed characteristic of most similarly failed attempts at innovation: it is rife with haphazard juxtapositions and awkward, ill-conceived transitions. This fact does little to help with a band that is already lacking in talent and ability; they would have done better to stick to more tried and true paths, on territories that had already been exhaustively explored within the screamo genre. Of course, despite all this, the record was met with the kind of rave critical reviews and hysterical fanfare that predictably follows from a public that is eager to applaud any glib gesture at ‘originality’.
The opposite (over)reaction to As the Roots Undo
that has surfaced recently – the wave of hyperbolic, emotional negativity that has risen in response to the album’s longstanding popularity – is certainly no better, however. There is no need to get worked up over this album at all, on either side. One should be able to approach it with a clear and open mind and from there proceed to coldly, dispassionately explain why exactly it fails so spectacularly. Only by adhering to this strict clinical sobriety can one achieve the detachment required to properly dissect As the Roots Undo
, itself such a pathetically maudlin piece.
Circle Takes the Square borrows generously from the genres of screamo and post-rock. In so doing, they’re drawing on two musical styles that fall decidedly outside of the mainstream, each of which tends to attract diehards and aficionados. These are two genres, moreover, that have produced some really solid releases considered on their own. Unfortunately, As the Roots Undo
struggles frantically to combine elements of both but accomplishes neither. Melodic segments feel hopelessly out of place, swiftly cut short by yet another swath of cacophonous chaos.
The only time that Circle Takes the Square lets an extended ambient section develop – in the intro to ‘Non-objective Portrait of Karma’ – it’s disappointing. You know where it’s going from the start. As soon as the whispers join the clean guitar arpeggio there’s no doubt that it’s heading into still one more apoplectic, all-over-the-place screamo spiel. The predominantly screamo songs, for their part, don’t fare any better. Just when Circle Takes the Square have finally got a good rhythm going, everything cuts out and it’s stripped down to some weak, schmaltzy drivel. And you just know that this is soon to be accompanied by some overdramatic whining or supposedly anthemic sing-along refrain by Drew Spezialle, the band’s lead singer and songwriter. All of the shifts seem sudden and forced, as the band vainly tries to fit in another ‘unexpected’ section to remind the listener that they’re defying expectations.
But it’s an effective gambit, one has to admit. God knows enough people have uncritically gushed over As the Roots Undo
’s ‘groundbreaking’, ‘unprecedented’ synthesis of screamo and post-rock. It all has an air of cheap emotion hanging over it – the ridiculous lyrics, the chick singer, the soooo artistic (though actually amateurish) cover art. More than anything, though, it's the contrived push for originality at any cost, without any substantial payoff. And it’s not hard to see through it, if you pay enough attention.