Circa Survive – Descensus (2014)

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Circa Survive is officially an ‘old’ band now. Formed in 2004, with their first release coming with 2005’s Juturna,  they’ve come to be one of the most consistent and powerful bands in the alternative rock sphere. This year, they made a surprising move in signing with Sumerian Records, first rereleasing 2012’s Violent Waves, and now delivering their fifth and newest studio effort, Descensus. At this point in most bands’ careers, it’s where you see them start to slip and fail to live up to their standards.

Circa Survive is not such a band.  Since Juturna, they’re a band that has managed to grow and mature, without having to become something else entirely to do it. And that’s no easy feat – to stay fresh and exciting for ten years – without suddenly throwing in EDM beats or disappearing up their own asses like some kind of freakish musical Ouroboros.

Descensus is yet another step down that path, incorporating both old and new sounds to create something new. What’s most apparent on the first listen is that this album is much more balanced than it’s predecessor Violent Waves was, which traded on long streaks of down-tempo songwriting and melancholy. Descensus has instead struck a balance between these quieter passages and the louder ones, with the screeching ‘Schema’ barreling out of the gate with crashing drums and tortured guitar scrapes, while songs like ‘Phantom’ and ‘Who Will Lie With Me Now’ (clocking in at a brief 54 seconds) take things down a peg and giving the album some room to breath. This is quite possibly Circa’s most dynamic album, because it smoothly jumps between moods and doesn’t stay stuck in one gear for too long (unlike some of Blue Sky Noise or Violent Waves do).

Descensus was actually touted to be Circa’s heaviest album yet, and while it’s not necessarily much heavier than any of their other records, it certainly has no shortage of hard-rocking songs. As mentioned before, ‘Schema’ is an excellent, brash opener, and songs like ‘Sovereign Circle’ and ‘Quiet Down’ are angry, pounding tracks that would almost seem out of character if not for the trademark guitar interplay of Brendan Ekstrom and Colin Frangicetto. They play with dynamics on ‘Child of the Desert’, too – what at first seems like a brooding, broiling track erupts into straight up groovy rock riffing, soloing, and screaming.

And here’s where that fine balance comes in – for all the harder rocking tracks on this album, there’s also moments of empty space and beauty, which allow it to breathe and flow like a true album should. ‘Phantom’ sounds like something you could sit under an umbrella on the beach and watch the waves to, replete with echoey lap steel guitars, and yet hides a darker lyrical center: Anthony would “rather be on my own, than with you”. ‘Who Will Lie With Me Now’ is a spacey interlude, with some small snippets of vocals buried in reverb drifting through the hollow, empty-sounding guitars. But the real centerpiece of the album, both literally and figuratively, is ‘Nesting Dolls’. This song finds Circa Survive doing their best Explosions in the Sky, but instead of mindlessly aping, they’ve actually created one of the most beautiful songs they’ve ever written. ‘Nesting Dolls’ floats along with gentle, bright guitar arpeggios and ethereal vocals, (at times buried similarly in the mix as in ‘Who Will Lie With Me Now’), and slowly works it’s way up to what seems like the typical cliche post-rock crescendo. However, right at the critical moment, it simply floats back down to Earth, fading out with grace instead of feeling the need to explode.

Descensus also sports the band’s longest song to date in the title track, which closes out the album. It’s a nine minute journey that starts off with the same echoey guitars as ‘Phantom’ and a driving bass line, and feels almost cinematic in the way it smoothly works it way up to a flurry of guitar tapping and then comes back down. Eventually, the chugging guitar from the beginning of the track returns as a sort of motif for the second half, which is much more restrained and spacey. This simple chugging motif becomes hypnotizing, as it’s embellished with the occasional strain of guitar and reverb, and gently ends the album by making it feel like we’re floating out of it, instead of crashing into a wall. This track is actually a great summation of the album itself, emphasizing it’s balance between driving, progressive-tinged rock and drifting, spacey sounds all in one song.

It feels as if Circa Survive has made finally the album they’ve been working towards since Blue Sky Noise. Descensus has that album’s strong sense of hooky songwriting, but also incorporates Violent Waves’  sense of space and melancholy, creating a whole that knows when it should push the pedal to the metal and when to back off and breathe. ‘Nesting Dolls’ and ‘Descensus’ take the band into territory it hasn’t explored before, and tracks like ‘Schema’ and ‘Sovereign Circle’ rock like they haven’t since On Letting Go. And yet for all this album does, it still stays recognizably Circa Survive, and in that respect it probably won’t win over any new fans or suddenly push them into stardom. But that’s fine, because instead Descensus finds a band that’s ten years into their career and still firing on all cylinders, still delivering music that pushes their boundaries, and still insanely worth listening to.

Key Tracks: Schema, Nesting Dolls, Phantom, Sovereign Circle, Descensus

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New Circa Survive Song + Video ‘Schema’

Holy shit. Circa Survive just released the first single from their new album, Descensus, and boy is it killer. It roars out of the gate with feedback and crashing drums, settles down into a moody verse, before coming back full force and going out with a band. Green’s vocals are still in top form, and he sounds angrier and raspier than ever, and this might be the loudest Circa has been, maybe ever. It sounds like they’ve managed to work the slower, more atmospheric sounds of Violent Waves into something more rocking, which is a really good combination. I was already excited for the new album, but now my body is fully ready.

As a side note, pre-orders for the album have also gone live on their site, and MerchNow, for those of you that are so inclined to spend money on music:

http://circasurvive.merchnow.com/

http://www.merchconnectioninc.com/collections/circa-survive-sumerian-records

Circa Survive Announces New Album ‘Descensus’ for November 24th Release

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Circa Survive have just come off the heels of their excellent Violent Waves reissue, and now they have announced that their new album, titled “Descensus”, will be released on November 24th. According to Anthony Green, the band’s vocalist, this album is to be their ‘heaviest and angriest’ recording yet, and is his ‘favorite Circa album’. Hear a clip of a new song below, which is set to release on October 27th:

Personally, I’m really excited for Descensus. Violent Waves was an amazing album, which showed them stretching their legs musically after being freed from a restrictive label. I’ve always loved the harder rocking edge of their sound, even though it doesn’t get shown very often, and it’ll be a nice change of pace from it’s largely down-tempo predecessor. And the fact that it’s coming out in just a little over a month is just the icing on the cake, because fuck waiting.

Top 20-ish of 2012

 1. Coheed and Cambria – The Afterman: Ascension

 I have to say, Coheed has made me really, really happy to be a fan this year. This is the first album by them I’ve gotten to wait for by them since I’ve been a fan, and it was a bit of a wild ride. Mic Todd left the band after a run in with the law, and Chris Pennie quit shortly after due to creative differences. I thought the band was about to break up when they started dropping cryptic videos on YouTube. Instead, it turned out that drummer Josh Eppard, who had originally been kicked out in 2005, was rejoining the band – something totally unexpected, and honestly, the only right choice. Then we get introduced to the new bassist, Zach “Super Dooper” Cooper, who blended right into the band’s sound flawlessly.

 And finally, Coheed announced their new album. Free of a record label, they were finally able to write and record however and whatever they wanted – and this time that meant a double record. Ascension is the first part, a 40 minute ride that travels through mellow piano intros, a twisting 8 minute lead single, classic bouncy Coheed pop rock, and gentle electronics. It’s seriously crazy that they managed to pack so much into such a short album, but that’s one of it’s defining features. It’s short, to the point, and begs to be listened to again as soon as the last notes of Subtraction ring out. If Descension is even half as good when it drops in February, the album as a whole has serious potential to rank as their best. Hats off to the ‘Heed.

 2. Deftones – Koi No Yokan

 Deftones’ previous album, Diamond Eyes, was a beast that kicked ass from start to finish. It saw them reaching insane new highs 15 years after their first album, which is no easy feat for any band. So naturally, Koi No Yokan was my most anticipated album of the year.

 The result is an expansive album that expands on what Diamond Eyes did in terms of texture and sonic landscapes. Diving into it with a good pair of headphones is a must, because it’s the most sonically expansive and lushly textured album of their career. Eleven years after White Pony, Deftones has finally made good on the promise that record held, and have unarguably hit their stride.*However, that being so, it’s not as immediate as it’s predecessor. Several songs stand out immediately, like the monster Leathers, the spiraling dream pop of Entombed, the otherworldly Tempest. The highs are up there in the stratosphere with their best work, but that very quality is also something of a curse. At times it feels as if things are blending together, and a fair few of the songs took me a lot longer to get into and remember than some of the ones I named.

 That said, the “blending together” is also a good thing – each song flows into and complements the next so well that it doesn’t feel like almost an hour has passed by the time ‘What Happened to You?’ closes it out. Few albums dare to work so well as a whole in this era of singles and one-hit wonders, and the total package ends up being pure ear candy.

 3. Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal

 Periphery’s first album was definitely not one of my favorites. I liked some of it, but I just couldn’t really get into them. I liked the singing, but the screaming just wasn’t up to par. I loved the riffing, but it got too repetitive over a whole album. I felt like they could really be a great band though, and I decided to give them another chance when I heard they were releasing a new album this year. Man, was I surprised – everything I hadn’t liked about the first record was gone. Spencer’s screams were absolutely throat shattering, the songwriting was leaps and bounds ahead of PI, and really, they just finally felt like a band (the first album had been written and recorded over a few years and with a few line up changes, so it wasn’t as cohesive as it could’ve been). It’s a fun record, insofar as djent can be fun. The choruses soar and stick in your head, the heavy parts make you feel like you could just walk through a brick wall, the drumming pummels you into submission (or at least into a complex toe tapping session).  It’s a record I can put on and jam to with no pretense, and one that has finally made me a fan of Periphery.

 4. P.O.S. – We Don’t Even Live Here

 On the other hand, I’ve pretty much always loved P.O.S. I’ve heard few artists fuse such disparate genres as punk rock and rap into something that works so well, hits so hard, and never feels forced or cliched. You only need to listen to ‘Drumroll (We’re All Thirsty)’ to know what he’s about.*So go figure that my favorite album of his comes in the form of his least punk, most ‘club’ album yet. WDELH rips the floor out from underneath his punk experimentation and replaces it with a slick, futuristic sound, worthy of clubs around the world. Most other artists would be getting shouted down as sell outs for this, me probably being one of the shouters, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work perfectly here.And that’s because P.O.S’ core message hasn’t changed. At heart, his lyrics are still the same brutally honest and subversive ones he’s best at, it’s just the instrumentation that’s changed. And this sound even allows him to take that one step further – ‘Get Down’ is a scathing indictment of vapid club songs that manages to also be one a damn fine club song itself, and ‘Fuck Your Stuff’ pokes and prods at the materialistic pop culture that’s dominated the media the past decade. Honestly, this album is so packed with great songs, it’s all one giant stand out.

5. Circa Survive – Violent Waves

I found this album totally on chance. I always passed over these guys because I’d somehow lumped them in with a million other generic scene-y bands. But after seeing a lot of hype for Violent Waves, and finding a way to, ahem, acquire it, I figured it couldn’t hurt. And damn – right from the seven minute opening track I knew I was totally wrong about them the whole time. Violent Waves is spacey, progressive rock at it’s finest.

 Honorable Mention:

 6. Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors

 I hadn’t even known Big Boi was putting out a new album this year, so VLaDR came totally out of the blue when Spotify recommended it to me. If it had come out sooner it would probably be higher on my list, but I haven’t had much time to listen to it yet. And yet, in the week it’s been out, it’s quickly rocketed up to being one of my absolute favorites this year. It’s right on par with Sir Luscious Left Foot, with tons of experimentation, plenty of hooks, and some straight out wacky guest appearances (Wavves, anyone?).

 And now, in no particular order, here’s the rest of the stuff I liked this year.

 Cloudkicker – Fade

Ben Sharp can really do no wrong, and Fade continues to prove that. Strangely, he’s taken on a sound that’s in part reminiscent of alternative mixed in with the more atmospheric stuff he’s been doing lately, which is far removed from his old djent style, but is still just as good.

 Japandroids – Celebration Rock

You seriously don’t find a rock record more fun than this one. It’s perfect summer music.

 Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral

Mark Lanegan’s voice is untouchable. He’s one of the most distinctive singers I’ve ever heard, and his voice alone sounds like it could tell a few stories. Plus, the album is really, really good. It’s bluesly and electronic at the same time, which is actually a lot better than it sounds.

 Soundgarden – King Animal

I had really, really low hopes for a new Soundgarden record, but it came out a lot better than I thought it would. It’s still not a shade on their earlier stuff, but it’s new fucking Soundgarden music in 2012. Who would’ve thought?

 Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania

Even though it’s just Billy Corgan with some other dudes these days, Oceania still has some really classic Pumpkins-sounding stuff on it. Plus, bringing back that classic Siamese Dream guitar fuzz is a dream come true.

 Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods

I wanted to like this album more, but it just didn’t stick with me as much as Carnavas or Swoon. Still, it’s got a lot of really good songs on it, and hearing their more electronic influenced side is cool, too.

 Say Anything – Anarchy, My Dear

I think I actually like this band better when they sound as laid back as they do on this album. Burn A Miracle, The Stephen Hawking, and Say Anything are all great songs.

 Muse – The 2nd Law

Having been massively disappointed in their last album, I was surprised that The 2nd Law was actually pretty damn solid (seriously, Panic Station is fucking funky) – even if it’s sorely lacking in their trademark guitar theatrics.

 Linkin Park – Living Things

I only actually started listening to these guys back when A Thousand Suns came out, so I’ve never been totally partial to the old nu-metal sound. This album takes the best parts of that style (most lyrically and song-structure wise) and combines it with the new electronic style they’ve been going for the past few years, with a ton of catchy songs.

 The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet

I like long songs, and progressive music, but I usually can’t stand TMV. They tend to suffer a lot from audio wankery that stretches their songs out way past their welcome. However, Noctourniquet actually pares the song lengths down and focuses much more on songwriting than what I’ve heard from them in the past, and I think that makes for a much more enjoyable experience with this album.

 Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence

I wish I could’ve put this album in my top five, but either I’m just not feeling BTBAM as much these days, or they’re getting a bit boring. While it does get a bit repetitive over the full hour+ run time, there’s still a lot of great riffs and songs in there – they’re just a bit…buried.                                                                                                                                                                                                            Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind

Simply put, AWLWLB is Converge delivering yet again. The modern-day hardcore pioneers continue to thrash harder than bands half their age, and show no signs of stopping.

 Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

This guy has one hell of a voice, and channel ORANGE is smooth and soulful as fuck.

 Jack White – Blunderbuss

It’s a bit of a departure from the White Stripes and Dead Weather stuff, but hearing a bluesy, countrified album like this is a refreshing change once in a while. Sixteen Saltines and Love Interruption are two of my favorite songs from this year.

 Rush – Clockwork Angels

And here’s another band that’s still better than guys half their age, despite having been around for the better part of thirty years. It’s their first full concept album, and probably one of their heaviest records, too.

The Prize Fighter Inferno – Half Measures

It’s only an EP, but it was actually one of my highlights this year. PFI is Claudio Sanchez’s (Coheed and Cambria singer/guitarist) side project, which has a lot more of an indie/electronic feel to it. It’s really cool to hear such a different side to his music, and to hear him branch away from the concept album thing as well.

The Armed – Spreading Joy

Clocking in at only 9 minutes, I don’t think it could even be called an EP. But Spreading Joy is the angriest, heaviest, most intense 9 minutes you’ll hear all year.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allalujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

I actually didn’t get into these guys until very, very recently. The two drone tracks aren’t really anything special, but the two twenty minute beasts that are Mladic and We Drift Like Worried Fire are masterpieces.