The Appleseed Cast - Illumination Ritual

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1. Adriatic to Black Sea (5:28)
2. Great Lake Derelict (4:36)
3. Simple Forms (2:41)
4. Cathedral Rings (4:37)
5. 30 Degrees 3 AM (4:15)
6. Branches on the Arrow Peak Revelation (3:00)
7. Barrier Islands (Do We Remain) (4:13)
8. North Star Ordination (6:01)
9. Clearing Life (5:14)
10. Illumination Ritual (4:03)

The Appleseed Cast were tagged as an emo band in their earliest days and that's likely to stick in 2013. It says as much about the elasticity of the genre as it does about how Chris Crisci's mercurial band hasn't allowed anything else to define them since. Over the past decade and a half, they haven't made two consecutive recordings without shuffling their lineup, their sonic focus, and often both: In the late 90s, the Lawrence, Kansas, band were peers of Mineral and Planes Mistaken For Stars, earnest Midwesterners expanding on the template set by Sunny Day Real Estate. By the time they dropped their critically acclaimed, two-volume series Low Level Owl in 2001, they were receiving Radiohead comparisons, but then again, so was anyone who laid plaintive vocals over electronics and guitars treated with more than two effects pedals. As the 2000s progressed, they moved towards a centrist indie-rock sound before going off the grid into full-on, post-rock moodiness on 2009ΓÇÖs Sagarmatha. By 2011ΓÇÖs Middle States EP, you could sense them circling back towards their original sound, and Illumination Ritual sticks the landing. Whether or not itΓÇÖs Appleseed CastΓÇÖs best record feels irrelevant, though itΓÇÖs certainly in contention. At this point, it offers a definitive Appleseed Cast, something that can serve as an entryway to their sprawling discography as well as a culmination of it.

Illumination Ritual can certainly be a potent nostalgia trip: the clean, interlocking guitars, CrisciΓÇÖs rounded vocals and nervous percussion rhythms are pure Deep Elm and Jade Tree throwbacks that thankfully avoid a similar tendency towards unwieldy verbiage or grating affectation. Even if there arenΓÇÖt too many singalong moments, CrisciΓÇÖs vocals remain warm and melodic throughout and the production is crisp without being brittle. The concision carries over to the instrumentals; ΓÇ£Branches on the Arrow Peak RevelationΓÇ¥ and ΓÇ£Simple FormsΓÇ¥ recall Peregrine or Sagarmatha with their fluttery guitar delay, subtle electronic manipulation, and floating ambience.

Crisci kept unusual hours writing much of Illumination Ritual-- as indicated by centerpiece ΓÇ£30 Degrees 3 AMΓÇ¥, the liminal feeling expressed in many of his lyrics are a result of walking the razor-thin line between ΓÇ£up too lateΓÇ¥ and ΓÇ£up too early.ΓÇ¥ ThereΓÇÖs an unmistakably nocturnal mood to it all and itΓÇÖs not the kind of wakefulness thatΓÇÖs a result of panic or some other insatiable mania: CrisciΓÇÖs halting, elliptical lines evoke a moment where you canΓÇÖt quite decide whether to take your waking state as a sign that you should start that novel or just try one more time to drift back to sleep.

This might not sound all that exciting and for the most part, Appleseed Cast donΓÇÖt excite so much as they comfort; Illumination Ritual is more a soundtrack for thinking about feelings rather than being in the thrall of emotion. "Adriatic To Black Sea", ΓÇ£Great Lake DerelictΓÇ¥, and ΓÇ£Cathedral RingΓÇ¥ provide Illumination RitualΓÇÖs most forceful moments out of insistent builds rather than sudden movement-- itΓÇÖs unclear what CrisciΓÇÖs getting at besides a certain sense of yearning (lines like "I feel so akin to rain," ΓÇ£the only girl is shooting for gold,ΓÇ¥ ΓÇ£a new cathedral, burn it downΓÇ¥ are typical) thatΓÇÖs abetted by the satisfying effect the trio achieves by pushing the tempo and lunging forward musically.

It all makes for a consistent listen, as the longer instrumental passages and more melodic material draw from the same tones and structures. But it can lead to Illumination Ritual washing over you rather than creating immersion. While theyΓÇÖre capable of calming ambience, the Appleseed Cast lack the sort of striking dynamics that can serve as a substitute for its lack of immediacy. Nor are they particularly innovative in creating texture; Nathan Wilder is an active and pugilistic drummer who often serves as the ΓÇ£leadΓÇ¥ when Crisci steps away from the mic, but too often they resort to the kind of clean, ringing peals of delayed guitar thatΓÇÖs going to sound like something the Edge has already done more memorably.

None of this should be surprising or even disappointing for listeners holding the torch for the Appleseed Cast eight albums and several EPs in. But for the curious listener, the definitive nature of Illumination Ritual can cut both ways, as Appleseed Cast demonstrate their capabilities without having too many definitive strengths come to the fore, consolidating a decade and a half of intriguing, and occasionally compelling experimentation into a manageable 45 minutes.		
The Appleseed Cast - Illumination Ritual/01 - Adriatic to Black Sea.flac 40.371 MB
The Appleseed Cast - Illumination Ritual/02 - Great Lake Derelict.flac 34.146 MB
The Appleseed Cast - Illumination Ritual/03 - Simple Forms.flac 17.249 MB
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