Review Summary: Devoured, digested, cast out...Decompose.
I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with a way to start my review of Decompositions :Volume Number One
. I mean really, how in the hell does one begin to talk about a new album from Circle Takes the Square? The phrase “hotly anticipated” is almost sardonic in how much of an understatement it is. And why, exactly, does such a relatively obscure band have a swarm of people clamoring for any morsel of new music? To put it plainly, it’s all thanks to As the Roots Undo
. Dropping their debut almost a decade ago, the emo band shook things up with a record that was “almost worth the mounds of hyperbolic claim it received.” But here we are, many years and broken promises later, wondering how the band has faired in a scene that has since erupted in many different directions, leaving them as a relic of the past.
It’s difficult to ascertain how well Circle Takes the Square have held up, as the band that released the landmark As the Roots Undo
is not the same band standing before us today. They’ve matured, and quite a lot at that. Decompositions: Volume Number One
is staggering in how refined the whole package is. With their first outing, the band was rough, messy, and frankly all over the place. Here, however, we are treated to a group of musicians that have honed their craft to a wonderful degree, and because of this, sound absolutely incredible as a cohesive unit. Add in an incredible production and what you have is one beautifully crafted album. On the surface, this is truly marvelous. Yet one cannot help but miss the old days, where the band lacked all of this maturity. You see, what made As the Roots Undo
such a marvel was the genius buried beneath the juvenile chaos. It wasn’t clean, it wasn’t pretty, and it sure as hell wasn’t the streamlined experience found with Decompositions
. It seems odd, really, to criticize an album for being too
refined, but it’s difficult to praise an album that lacks the personality that defined its predecessor.
But the heart of why Decompositions
fails to meet expectations is simple: it’s rather bland. Although I hate to keep drawing comparisons to their other work, Circle Takes the Square were much more interesting a band when they were experimenting and pushing the envelope. The weird, almost quirky quality that permeated their first two releases is gone. Instead of the inventive vocal interplay, we get Drew and Cathy shouting in unison for much of the album. Both vocalists have improved to an incredible degree. Drew sounds less whiny, and Cathy has since strengthened her delivery. When they’re bouncing back and forth, playing off of one another, the results are simply stunning. Too often, though, it devolves into a shouting match that lacks energy and creativity.
There are a lot of dull moments, that much is true. The band plays it safe, especially in the latter half, and it all sounds sort of flat and barren. Largely, this portion is fast, loud, and full of slamming guitars that do little to engage the listener in what is going on. Yet much of this is forgiven when Circle Takes the Square find themselves and the adventurous brilliance within. The two tracks that bookend the album are indicative of how strong the band can be when letting go and challenging themselves. “Enter By The Narrow Gates” starts things off as a slow-cooker of a song. It plods along with an admirable ferocity. Drew sings, croons, wails, and screams, giving that unpredictable sound that has earned him accolades. And this unpredictability is found everywhere early on--not only with the opener, but with the entire first half of the record. The dynamics and interesting tempo changes make the first few selections an absolute joy to hear. The frenetic guitars that give the music its drama and bombastic energy are in full force here. Throw in some impressive vocal work and the first four songs simply astound.
Sadly, this magic isn’t sustained, as the remaining songs are where the band fall off completely. Its clear from here on that Circle Takes the Square have bumped up the metal influences, shedding a bit of that misguided chaos that fans love. It’s jarring, in a way, as if Decompositions
has two very different halves, made at two very different times. However, as the album comes to a close, the band throws another curve ball in the form of “North Star Inverted.” Said track is one of the most bizarre things that the band has ever done. It can best be described as a 10-minute folk “epic,” with an intense, harsh beginning leading into a very mellow, acoustic guitar lead melody. It may seem a tad trite, considering how different it is from the rest of the album. Rest assured, this isn’t some contrived attempt--it’s pure Circle Takes the Square, so in its own way it’s very dark, contorted, and beautiful because of it. The track is one of the most immense pieces the band has done, and it is a wonderful reminder of the genius these musicians are capable of.
To be fair, Decompositions: Volume Number One
is not the spectacular failure it could have been. While screamo pioneers entering the ring years later seems like a set up for a late career catastrophe, Circle Takes the Square deftly avoid all that nonsense. It does not reach the heights of the now legendary As the Roots Undo,
but it does signal the growth of a band seemingly still finding its way. At times chaotic and explosive, while at other times beautiful and contemplative, Decompositions
is great record by a band that was sorely missed.