Review Summary: I fixed myself up nice but you never came.
In 2003, Saosin vocalist Anthony Green emerged as a musician with enormous amounts of potential. Five years, two Circa Survive records, one solo record, and a myriad of guest spots (including vocal parts for big names like Say Anything and Fear Before) and side projects later, he still hasn't completely lived up to that potential. He's done well for himself, of course; Circa Survive are moderately popular, and he's basically an idol within the scene, but although he's done great things, none of his output so far has felt like the best he's capable of making. His learning process has been out in the open, almost painfully so, ever since Circa Survive's first album Juturna. It was good, no doubt, but it was also obvious that Green was still working on being capable not only as a singer, but as a band leader and principle songwriter. Perhaps if he would have stayed with Saosin, he could have skipped the process and made amazing music sooner with input from a capable band, if the music on Translating the Name is any indication of what would have come. However, choosing to go it alone hasn't yielded unimpressive results.
On Letting Go is the closest Anthony Green has come to getting it right so far, but it still isn't without flaw. The problem comes primarily with the band. While they're great musicians (the drummer is lame though; more on him later), they need a few lessons in diversity and dynamics. Juturna's musical kinks were forgivable because it was Circa Survive's first record. The album had one basic sound musically; they rarely switched things up in terms of tempo and effects, and the songs didn't crescendo - they just sort of stayed at one level throughout. On Letting Go more or less fixes that, but just like their frontman, the musicians of Circa Survive have proven themselves to be slow learners. Opener "Living Together" doesn't make that apparent though. Starting out with an intro riff that's simple and interesting, the song is a great show of what Circa Survive are capable of musically when they put their minds to it. The verses show restraint before an explosive chorus, leaving listeners to wonder where this type of writing was on Juturna. The dual guitar leads in the chorus are impressive and intricately crafted, weaving in and out of each other expertly. The bottom line is that in terms of what they play, the guitarists have improved, but it's how they play that still needs a bit of work, like in "Mandala" which falls back into Juturna's lack of dynamics. The album's weakest link is drummer Steve Clifford. While his aesthetic tricks helped him slide by on Juturna, he can no longer hide in On Letting Go's improved musical environment. Great songs are brought down slightly by his overly simplistic drumming, and all too often he relies on the same beats. He's got the skill, he just needs to learn to put a bit more energy into his playing.
While Anthony Green might have a few things yet to learn in terms of songwriting, vocally he's at his peak here. His vocals singlehandedly elevate this record from good to great. His performance on Translating the Name was rough yet passionate, and on Juturna he seemed to struggle with balancing aggression and melody. On Letting Go is a combination of Translating's emotion and Juturna's melodic nature; Green manages to find a great balance between the two. "The Difference Between Medicine and Poison is in the Dose" sees him at his most soaring; the line "Did you ever wish you were somebody else"" is given an incredible emotional effect by his scratchy intonation. "Semi Constructive Criticism" is tense and frantic, with the song's fast and energetic tempo lending weight to Green's voice. Lyrically, he isn't the strongest writer, but he shows a certain adeptness at connecting the songs thematically, giving the record a cohesive feel.
"Your Friends Are Gone" is the album's standout track, and it beats out "Act Appalled" as the band's best song. It gives On Letting Go the emotional climax that Juturna sorely lacked. Led by solid guitar and bass riffs in the verses, the song is the musical apex of the record. The chorus is the first thing Circa Survive have done that can be described as "poignant," with Green giving an impassioned and somewhat vulnerable performance. The last two minutes or so is what elevates the song to greatness. The bridge is subdued musically yet very melodic and catchy, leading into the song's climax which sees Green giving a career-making vocal delivery. "You Friends Are Gone" is the single greatest thing Circa Survive have done and probably the best thing to come out of the scene.
On Letting Go proves that Circa Survive are capable of jaw-dropping things, and hopefully they can achieve that on their next record. Anthony Green is finally coming into his own as a songwriter, and if they can continue to improve musically, their next album has the potential to be one of 2009's best. A bit more diversity, a bit more energy, and a bit more ingenuity will lead to Circa Survive living up to their place at the forefront of the scene.