Posts Tagged ‘instrumental’

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}Lawrence, Kansas’s The Appleseed Cast return in 2013 with their eighth full-length, Illumination Ritual. Boasting heavy nautical, astrological, and geographical themes via the artwork and song titles, Illumination Ritual is in some ways a conceptual record and is best listened to as such: from front to back, without pause, in order to soak in the entire thing as one composition.

Musically, the album isn’t drastically different from TAC’s other work from recent years—splicing together sweeping instrumental sections with rollicking technical parts—but manages to feel fresh and relevant nonetheless. In typical Appleseed fashion, singer/guitarist Chris Crisci’s vocal is far back in the mix, echoing hauntingly behind the guitars and bass. Drummer Nathan Wilder’s parts oscillate between open beats and more intricate, busy sections—sometimes almost distractingly busy. Then again, it wouldn’t really be an Appleseed record without that, would it?

We begin with the wonderful “Adriatic To Black Sea.” The track demonstrates the band’s uncanny ability to maintain a flow and smoothness in a math-rock type of song. I can’t think of many other bands that pull that off, although American Football and latter-day Minus The Bear do come to mind. In fact, “Adriatic…” reminds me quite a bit of the leadoff track from American Football’s eponymous album, “Never Meant.” Interlocking guitars, a long intro before the vocal, a solid bass line—the comparisons are there.

“Great Lake Derelict” is one of the more powerful songs on Illumination Ritual, boasting an epic outro and a stellar lead guitar line. It’s sure to be a winner on the live stage. “30 Degrees 3 AM” is another solid tune that seems like it could have fit on Peregrine or one of the Low Level Owl albums; it also has a touch of the melodic tendencies of Two Conversations. “Branches on the Arrow Peak Revelation” is a cool instrumental interlude, followed by three more good songs in “Barrier Islands,” lead single “North Star Ordination,” and “Clearing Life.” The latter utilizes a perfectly subdued and overlaid vocal track behind repetitive drums and guitars.

The album rounds out with the title track, another instrumental. I’d prefer if the last song wasn’t an instrumental, but it’s a minor complaint and the song is still a good one. Also, a quick warning: the synth action in the middle of the song sounds just like police sirens—if you’re driving while listening to it, don’t worry, you’re not getting pulled over, so don’t look around frantically like a clown the way I did.

From the epic nautical and astrological motifs to the sweeping soundscapes, intricate instrumentation, and nifty artwork, The Appleseed Cast’s Illumination Ritual is one of 2013’s most depth-filled and ethereal releases so far. A highly-recommended listen from a band that has yet to let me down.

~ J.M.

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A solitary morning drive, an austere overcast sky, withered trees lurching like knotted fingers across the rolling Pennsylvanian hills…

And that’s about as far as I’ll go with this hippie-dippie drivel. But that general setting—a cloudy morning, driving home on back roads—was indeed the time and place in which I listened in full to my latest “recent discovery,” The Album Leaf’s first full-length, An Orchestrated Rise to Fall. The albums poignant instrumental compositions proved an apt soundtrack for the lonely drive back to my humble abode.

The Album Leaf is really just one guy—Jimmy LaValle. We all know that anyone named Jimmy must be awesome, so it makes sense that LaValle’s music is of a high caliber. He recorded and released An Orchestrated Rise to Fall all the way back in 1999. Legend has it that Jónsi, frontman of preeminent Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Rós, picked up one of the early Album Leaf recordings in a record store and liked it so much that he asked Jimmy LaValle to open for Sigur Rós on their next tour, exposing The Album Leaf’s music to a much wider audience and cementing LaValle as a legitimate creative force in the post-rock world.

My exposure to instrumental music is fairly limited—Explosions in the Sky, Andy McKee, Sigur Rós themselves, and a small smattering of others are all I’ve taken the time to really listen to. Now I’d have to add The Album Leaf to that list, because this record is worth hearing. One of my favorite parts about it is the percussion—in the songs that contain any, that is—and the way it doesn’t resort to Postal-Service-like quips and gurgles as backing tracks, like you might expect. Instead, the drum sounds (whether they’re played by a random percussionist or LaValle himself, I have no idea) are completely realistic, giving the album a more organic, full-band sound. Opening track “Wander” is a good example. If that’s a drum machine, The Album Leaf sure has me fooled.

My favorite tracks on the album are definitely “We Once Were (One)” and “We Once Were (Two).” They utilize a mournful synth part that really is perfect for driving alone, as cheeky as that may sound. “We Once Were (Two)” brings in the drums where “We Once Were (One)” leaves them out, providing an excellent backdrop for those keyboard segments. More melancholy acoustic-based songs like “Airplane” and “September Song” are equally memorable. The album ends with “Lounge Act (Two),” incorporating brushed percussion and a strange distorted voice part (I hesitate to call it a vocal track) that at times sounds very much like Radiohead.

An Orchestrated Rise to Fall made a distinctive moment out of an otherwise boring commute. Call me a sap if you wish, but I was—dare I say it?—moved. Remarkable, I know. The next lonesome morning drive I take, I’ll put on The Album Leaf again. It’s not often that a good album can make such an impression upon first listen.

~ J.M.