Silence, and then slowly come the sounds of a man whistling; intentionally doing so out of time and off-key at some points. Some whispering in the background, and one can almost picture the scene fitting into a horror movie at times. The whistling continues, so far so good, and runs into the beginning of the next song. It is promptly disrupted by the screaming of “Rejoice!” Let me get something out of the way; I love the instruments most of the time. Sometimes I get completely caught up listening to certain guitar lines or drum patterns. That gets promptly ruined by the warbling tag-team that is Drew Speziale and Kathy Coppola. They weave in and out of the music with an almost complete disregard for the other band members. For a reason that escapes me, both vocalists (calling them singers is pushing it at times) take a collective look between the talent they have and the effort to use it in a manner befitting the music, look back at each other and shrugging say, “f**k it”. It is seriously that
big of an obstacle to the album as a whole, being that it is the Drew and Kathy show overpowering the instruments. It is almost at times that the other members get bored with playing their instruments and just diddle around without putting much effort or emotion into the playing (take the ending of Kill the Switch, for example, and listen to it imagining that the drummer was bored).
Now, credit should be given where credit is due. As mentioned previously, the instrumental aspect of this album can be breathtaking at times. The drumming is usually fast and intense, if not spastic and uncoordinated at times. It slows down (such as the midsection of “In the Nervous Light of Sunday”) and can fit the music very nicely. The guitars are almost always well-played and technical as far as my ears can hear. Some lines can be quite beautiful, abstract and haunting, before switching into a jagged riff highlighting the more aggressive parts of the album. The bass is usually fairly well-heard, and adds a certain depth to some areas within the songs that might not be as strong without them. Some of the samples (like the rock-shuffling in “Interview at the Ruins”) can get annoying and detract from the songs, whilst other times they can also add a depth and “echo” to a song (like the beginning of “Non Objective Portrait of Karma”). If nothing else, As the Roots Undo
is an expansive record, with many layers and facets that take many listens to uncover. Whether or not the effort is worth the reward, well, that is up to the listener.
Now, let me expound on the term “expansive”. This album is expansive in many ways; it is expansive in that the majority of the songs are over 5 minutes in length. It is expansive in depth and in the layers of sound. Lastly, it is expansive in that ultimately it feels empty. The greatest problem is not that of simplicity or repetition; it is that of ultimately being emotionless and void of feeling. Very rarely do all
the members connect and provide an original mood. The two vocalists are detached almost fully from emotions. A similar technique is put to good use in Converge’s Jane Doe,
allowing the listener to inject themselves into the tortured frenzy of Jacob Bannon and crew and use their own anger and rage to fill in the blanks. This does not work well for Circle Takes the Square. Their detachment comes across as lazy. The songwriting can be extremely rambling and goalless. Their lyrical concepts hold no water, and gives nothing for the listener to hang their hat on. It is pretension solely for the sake of the writers. Now I do not have the educational background to understand where all of these concepts are taken from, but I know that they do nothing but separate myself and others likewise inclined from the album. This presents the biggest problems with As the Roots Undo.
It is much too targeted and as such can come across as empty feeling.
I sit back in my chair as the final strings of “A Crater to Cough In” are plucked, contemplating my feelings. They are torn. On one hand I have the instrumentals (positives); on the other I have the rest (negatives). Taking a metaphorical glance between the two, my decision is made for me. The negatives of this album far outweigh the positives, even as strong as those may be at times. I am left with the same conclusion and rating as I had when I started this review, but now I have gained insight into the dichotomy displayed between users. This album comes across as empty, but not intentionally. There is a strict disconnect between the album and the listener. I suppose the heart of the problem is that I don’t “get” it; the pretension and avant-garde vocals irreparably degrade the music. It seems less a musical expression as much as an experiment in indulgence and excess. As I search for a metaphor for this album, a single word comes to mind: faux. Faux is a French word, meaning “fake” or “false”. It carries connotations of upper-crust verbiage and men in bowler hats exclaiming “Capital!” It fits the album insofar as it is nothing that hasn’t been said better and more concisely, without the affectation. Like many who use that word for the sake of using that word; they aim high yet hit low. Songs like “In The Nervous Light of Sunday” show the best of Circle Takes the Square and what they can be, while other tracks are plagued by chaotic structuring, horrendous (at times, to be fair) vocals and rambling lyrical concepts. To say I hate As the Roots Undo
would be a false (faux?) assessment. I enjoy what this group does when they do it well.
Sadly though, Circle Takes the Square had too high of aspirations and too low of effort.
In The Nervous Light of Sunday
Kill the Switch