Review Summary: The Appleseed Cast play in your living room.
You are sitting in your living room - watching some TV, studying, reading, typing away, whatever it is that you do - and the Appleseed Cast are right next to you, playing their new album Illumination Ritual
. You're just going about your business, after all they're old friends of yours. Their music has a certain feeling of nostalgia, a kindness even. The band members are seated casually as if in a rehearsal, focused on their respective instruments but relaxed at the same time. This is what listening to Illumination Ritual
sounds like: The Appleseed Cast are neither in your face nor the background, but playing right next to you, and you are letting their music wash over you.
The soft production of the album treats the vocals, guitars, bass and drums with equal favour, and lets the playing of the instruments themselves dictate when they come to the forefront. This is most common with the drums, as they are definitely the most active instrument on the album. The songs, often repetitive but not dull, definitely benefit from off-kilter rhythms and sometimes it is the drums that grab your attention if it happens to wander. However, there are times when the playing itself seems sloppy and even once or twice slips out of time with the rest of the band, along with a slight few sour notes from the lead guitar. The guitars give the album it's atmosphere, ranging from the usual post rock treatment of delay pedals and soaring leads to the rockier moments in Barrier Islands (Do We Remain)
and Cathedral Rings
(which happen to be the album's best songs). Lastly, the vocals of Chris Crisci are unquestionably treated as an instrument, with Crisci often holding back until the perfect moment (even if it's more than halfway through a song) to bring his soft and warm voice into the fray.
The Appleseed Cast have sat somewhere in between the camps of post rock, math rock, indie and emo quite comfortably for their tenure as a band. That is not to say that they haven't explored to the very edge of these genres, and Illumination Ritual
steps up over the slow, mostly instrumental musings of 2009's Sagarmantha
and the Middle States
EP by upping the energy and tempo, and avoiding the tried and tested post rock method of building up to massive climaxes over and over. Having said this, there are points where the music completely falls into the background: Barrier Islands, North Star Ordination
, and Clearing Life
bleed into one another if you're not listening closely enough, being of the same tempo and similar character. Even if this was the band's intention, it makes for a confusing listen, though the songs themselves are superb. Of the electronic-tinged instrumentals, Simple Forms
and the title track are easily the choice cuts over Branches on the Arrow Peak Revelation
, in which the odd timed drums and fractured guitar don't work together, leaving the track sounding like an unfinished (living room) demo. Elsewhere, the longer compositions of Adriatic to Black Sea
, Great Lake Derelict
and the soft, more simple 30 Degrees, 3 AM
showcase the upsides of Illumination Ritual
: the ethereal guitars, the energetic drum playing, the careful vocals, and most of all the fact that it all works together. Aside from the aforementioned Branches
, the album flows impeccably, and the band sometimes hold onto the moment for too long, but they always make sure what's coming next is worth the wait (see North Star Ordination
All of these factors - the soft production, the very occasional but forgivable sloppiness, and the sense of nostalgia - contribute to the feeling that across the duration of the album, the Appleseed Cast are right next to you the whole time. The band aren't put off by your old copies of Low Level Owl, Volume 1
and Two Conversations
sitting proudly in your living room, because they know that after all these years they are still perfectly capable of producing quality material. Illumination Ritual
is not melancholic; it sounds fulfilled.