Sunday, June 17, 2007

Circa Survive - On Letting Go

Circa Survive
On Letting Go
Equal Vision Records 2007

Do me a favor. If you are going to make music, tread carefully the waters of labeling yourself. Others are sure to label your sound, and they’ll most likely put you in a box. That’s how the music industry works, and there is no getting past the question “so what do you sound like?” The answer should be chosen carefully; otherwise your listener might have an experience like I have had with the new Circa Survive album, On Letting Go.

I had not heard the first note played by Circa Survive until I started to do this review. I had heard of the new release, and a friend told me to check it out. I headed to the band’s Myspace page not knowing what I was to uncover. My eyes first found their new album cover, a decent little piece of art with a hot air balloon being lifted by a man with a burning head. I then scrolled down to just under the band name to find their label. There I read three words separated by slashes attempting to provide a short description of the band’s sound.

The first word was “Other,” so no help there. The last word was “indie,” and one must ask in the days of Myspace and iTunes where bands have great success by self promotion, who isn’t “indie” inherently?

The middle word was what I had to go on. “Experimental” is what it read. Before I clicked the first song I was thinking something along the lines of Sigur Ros, or The Mars Volta. After all, an experimental sound should be nothing short of a completely new approach to music in the hopes that it will at least work well, if not change the face of music all together. As you can well imagine, this is not what I heard.

This is not to say the music is bad, or that it isn’t original. But Circa Survive are simply a bit of fresh air in the world of power emo rock. They are a very talented crew, and know how to craft lasting songs that stay in your head and make you sway with the mental playback. Their use of ambient guitar parts blend nicely with their steady rock grooves. The vocals are pretty, for lack of a better term, and are high- borderline Coheed and Cambria range but considerably less annoying. But to continue with the comparison, Circa still doesn’t quite hit the “experimental” elements that Coheed does well.

The song at the forefront of the new album is “The Difference Between Medicine and Poison is in the Dose.” It is a very good showcase of all the band’s elements. The song starts with a solid drum beat and hits in with powerful ambience as the rest of the band joins and instantly creates the mood of the song. The melody is quite satisfying as well and the chorus is the type of upbeat melancholy you can’t help but connect with and keep singing over and over.

The lyrics are a bit vague, but with it’s possible that their ambiguity is exactly the point. The song speaks of time being temporary, the singer is relieved to have lived as long as he has and yet wishes he were somebody else. Perhaps not a new concept for a song, but the catchy chorus delivers the message effectively.

Other songs on the album are just as deserving of a listen as the rest, they are mostly bright and compared with some of their Warped Tour brethren are much more mature. The problem lies in their self-prescribed diagnosis of experimentation, which they do little of. I doubt there is a correct three word description for any one band, whether they are good or terrible. Circa Survive are definitely original in their own right. They are good at what they do, and play with a fervor that is lost on some flavor of the month bands. Maybe their three words should be: Accomplished/ Passionate/ Rock. I doubt, however, Myspace carries the two former terms as possibilities.

One line on the album reads, “Accomplishments are transient.” Experimentation is often uncomfortable, typically off the beaten path from what’s heard in the mainstream. It often heeds much resistance, but if successful, it can last through time. On Letting Go makes a decent attempt to endure. But if Circa Survive want to accomplish something more than “indie” status, and not just be as bland as “other,” they need to take listeners like me past the ambient emo pop rock of today and give me something I’ll remember a few decades from now, not just transient melodies.

-Mark Wingerter

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