Review Summary: An undeniably beautiful but ultimately unsatisfying and empty mess of an album.
Circa Survive’s musical evolution from album to album has never been akin to the norm. While most bands slowly change sounds or evolve in and out of genres gradually over time, Circa Survive has roughly always been the same band with the same pieces and arranges the architecture differently each time to create a familiar but original sound each time. But while the band’s toolbox is very much the same, as always, on their fifth full length Descensus
, something has gone awry this time around. Struggling to find some substance in their ideas, the band has arguably put out its worst effort to date.
, despite its overall shortcomings, starts off fairly well. Opening tracks “Schema” and “Always Begin” are terrific examples of this band at its best: passion, structure and grace all wrapped in a tidy package. Showcasing their more structured, driven, constructed songwriting approach that’s been evident on their past two albums, Schema screeches out of the gate and is the band at its absolute heaviest, while Always Begin balances between interesting verses and catchy choruses.
The good times don’t last for long, however. At this point in their career, Circa Survive has mastered their beautifully radiant and texturally sleek musical style, but Descensus
proves that you always need some substance underneath the style, and they simply don’t deliver this time around. Much of Descensus
, including tracks like “Only The Sun”, “Quiet Down” and “Phantom”, are successful in creating an elegant setting, complete with woven guitar lines heavily drenched with echo and flanger, creating a very ethereal, other-worldly feel, but it ultimately comes up short with their lack of direction. Washing the listener over with beautiful textures and polished melodies, but with nothing structured underneath, the listener is left with something overly sweet, lacking in substance and ultimately unsatisfying. The band never attempts to grab at you or offer a memorable moment or catchy chorus, but instead opts to create a glossy landscape with nothing of interest going on, resulting in a large fits of mundane passages and an overall sense of unproductivity.
And then there’s moments on Descensus
that are just flat out head-scratching, such as the experimental track “Nesting Dolls”. Easily one of the group’s the most avant-garde moments, the track is the album’s undeniable low point: reverbed-soaked guitar chords back Green’s lament of guilt in a relationship before the song slowly unravels into a long-winded, pedestrian post-rock build for the final four minutes. What was the band trying to accomplish here" What did this song set out to do" Questions like these, unfortunately, plague the listener through-out Descensus
But there are still moments in some tracks where an effort seems to be apparent. “Sovereign Circles”, for example, finds a nice balance between progression and indulgence, but it still missing that one little piece to tie it all together. “Child Of The Desert” is one of the album’s stand-outs, as it marches at a brisk 10/8 pace with a memorable chorus, but suddenly crashing into a strange, sour outro for the song’s final minute.
does have its moments, it seems like the band has gotten too comfortable with their sound and ultimately failed to build a proper support for their ideas. Balance has always been the band’s strong suit, mixing substance with style, but this time around, too much focus was placed on the style rather than the substance, resulting in an undeniably beautiful but ultimately unsatisfying and empty mess of an album.