Review by Seth Wood
Circa Survive is an incredible band. Anyone who has spent some hours listening to their music will agree. Their sound is and has always been their own, with their super groovy, in-the-pocket drum and bass work, their ever-changing, ambient guitar tones, and of course, their superb vocalist Anthony Green. The band put out three unforgettable LPs before putting out Violent Waves in 2012. Violent Waves was, by no stretch of the imagination, a bad album. I even gave it a very favorable review while I was working for a different publication; however, it lacks that lingering quality that all of Circa’s other albums have. I mean, in my head right now, without turning on the track, I can hear the shuddering guitars and the pulsing drums in the intro to “Holding Someone’s Hair Back;” I can hear Anthony Green’s voice erupting over “Get Out;” I can hear Steve Clifford’s snare drum flicker like some herculean candle behind Green’s vocals on “Kicking Your Crosses Down.” There are no moments like these in Violent Waves. In the scope of Circa Survive’s entire body of work, I really do not know how to describe the 2012 album as anything more than a stepping stone—a prelude or prototype—to Descensus.
Violent Waves marked a point where the band really began to experiment with their song structures and head towards a more progressive direction, which is much easier to recognize now that Descensus has been released. The new album is very experimental and progressive, and this has a very noticeable effect on each member’s role in the band. The drums and bass really stand out on this record. One cannot help but be mesmerized by Clifford’s work on the third track, titled “Always Begin.” Though the drum riff is in no odd time signature, it is very difficult for a listener to wrap their head around the rhythm. I mean this in the best way possible, of course. Avid music listeners always appreciate small moments where the music is above their understanding. These are the types of moments that enhance one’s abilities as a listener. Another enchanting moment coming from the drums and bass is the song “Only the Sun.” Nick Beard’s swelling bass line makes the listener dizzy and entranced—again, in the absolute best way possible. The bottom line is that the band makes the listener feel lots of different ways in this album, and I believe that the drums and bass are largely responsible.
Certainly, the guitar work and vocals are to be applauded as well: there are no weak links in the band’s lineup, but it does seem like Ekstrom (guitars), Frangicetto (guitars) and Green had to relegate themselves a little bit, in order for the band to evolve into what it has become. As listeners, we can only really listen to one thing at a time, so in being completely struck by the drum and bass work, the guitars and vocals have to take a step back into the shadows of the music, out of the spotlight. The result of this relegation will inevitably be that Descensus will not be remembered like Juturna and On Letting Go, where the vocal melodies were very prominent (99% of time it’s the vocals that get remembered, for whatever reason). Certainly, those first two albums are much more accessible to the average listener; like I said, this new album is very experimental. Though the album is different from the band’s past releases, it is still totally Circa Survive. The band has just evolved into something its fans have never seen or heard before.
As a music fanatic, I appreciate this band so much more continuing to find themselves in new ways, for not settling and putting out similar albums year after year. These types of bands are so inspiring to me, and they are the ones who reinvigorate my love for music. If you have never delved into Circa Survive, or maybe you have but not to a large extent, I encourage you to do so now. Start at the beginning of their discography if you have to. I promise you will be rewarded, because there is no greater reward as a music fanatic than to latch onto a band who is constantly putting out albums that were better than their older ones, and who always challenge themselves to mold their music into something their fans have never seen before.
Listen to: “Schema” and “Descensus”