Review Summary: Now and then, the shadow remains.
I have seen my fair share of winters at this time and age. Rays of sunshine gently melting the snow, branches trembling to the soft touch of the morning wind, and thin layers of ice carefully fracturing under the fickle weight of fallen leaves... I've learnt through the years to gaze upon the timeless landscape while breathing it all, patiently, as if it was my last breath in the presence of such an overwhelming splendor. Now and then, like nothing has changed, while drifting astray from my thoughts as I feel them being torn apart from my conscience by every single note and beat from Caspian's latest release.
Now and then, On Circles
It's in this fictional setting, the proper one, where I find myself gravitating around the follow up to that blissful cornerstone for the genre that was 2015's Dust and Disquiet
, refraining from falling into pointless comparisons, because that was then, and this is now. And even Philip Jamieson (guitar, vocals) repels the tempting thought, neglecting evolution as some sort of mandatory requirement for the future, peeling off the importance of the continuum for a band like Caspian, who prefer to work it out in an environment where everything is far simpler, and at the same time, fiercely effective.
It seems that with On Circles
, there was no intent in doing anything different, or better. Instead, it was just natural order, applied to the way the band writes, carving out the rot of ambition and leaving the essence of their music barely untouched, sustained by what is just a long-time running friendship. "Wildblood" proves this in no time. My mouth forms a stupid smirk of joy when the distant cries of a sax and the dystopian soundscape are shattered by a crushing wave of guitars splashing my ears with a single, perfect note. This is the Caspian we know and love, back, as good as ever. The drums slowly surface, and the record starts its pace, like a colossus rising from an avalanche, first with firm step and then with grace and refinement. The work on the drums specially, is magnificent, both thanks to new hard hitter Justin Forrest and to Will Yip's immense production.
"Flowers of Light" paints the album of a different color. Free from the cold hands of winter, it becomes a blooming ecstasy celebrating some sort of musical spring in which the band collectively pleasure themselves in fraternal unison. And then comes the quiet of night, and the first surprise of On Circles
. Kyle Durfey, from post-hardcore brotherhood Pianos Become The Teeth, immediately floors my judgement with a beautiful vocal performance in "Nostalgist". Caspian here chrysalises into a different entity for a moment, mirroring bands like The Appleseed Cast, recreating something of their own while making past and present coalesce to form a truly breathtaking tune.
The middle section of On Circles
treats euphoria with a wiser tone. "Division Blues" starts calmly, allowing acoustic guitars, chiming bells and a myriad of echoing notes to build up one of the best crescendos of the album, a craft to which Caspian has devoted themselves fervently over the years, as those last seconds of the track show with epic rapture. "Onsra" is significantly more serene, along with "Division Blues", Caspian find themselves gliding over the sands of a mild summer like a breeze. You can almost feel the tide rising in the last seconds of "Onsra", ultimately contained before unleashing the storm that is "Collapser". Those of you rising your fist to the sky craving for the harder side of Caspian will be compensated with a flood of riffs. The four-minute typhoon wreaks havoc with unrelenting force, shaking mountains like they were made from silk.
Approaching the end of this journey through the seasons there is "Ishmael", the longest track of the album, a pacifying lullaby conducted by guest cello player Jo Quail that evokes the crimson tones of autumn, the nurturing scent of wet soil in the air after the rain. The melodies weaved here by Caspian are genuine, skillfully interlaced with Quail's cello, ascending to a summit of post rock majesty and cascading down like a stream through the forest, sundered into countless brooks that flow into the intimate warmth of the closing "Circles on Circles". This is a song that makes a little history for Caspian, and it does so by having the very own Philip Jamieson, acoustic in hand, delivering a delightful vocal performance for a song that feels more like the post rock twin of Bon Iver than the similar affair they had with Tanner Merritt from O'Brother for the blissful "Run Dry", back in the days of Dust and Disquiet
With On Circles
, Caspian has managed to distil a mighty brew for their collection, an album that doesn't fall into the unfathomable and often too dense lengths of the genre, but that chooses instead to keep things compact, far more inviting to iterate along its forgiving length, while still allowing for heart racing finales and unraveling instrumental passages. Now and then, and after countless spins, Caspian's shadow remains.