The emerging popularity of “experimental” rock group Circa Survive may confuse some. After all, there are no sugary-sweet pop choruses or radio-friendly chords on any of the Philadelphia-based quintet’s records. After hitting play, listeners are bombarded with singer Anthony Green’s eerie falsetto soaring over experimental guitar sounds and crashing drums.
Yet that formula has proved itself time and time again for the band, recruiting an army of fans while doing extensive touring on the festival circuit, playing shows like Coachella, The Bamboozle, The Vans Warped Tour and The Alternative Press Tour.
And after five long years on New York-based hardcore/punk label Equal Vision Records, Circa Survive was finally called to the big leagues. The band was recently signed by Atlantic Records, making it labelmates with powerhouse rock acts like Metallica, Death Cab For Cutie and Bloc Party. And its major label debut, “Blue Sky Noise” comes out tomorrow.
But while parts of the album still play to the band’s strengths from “Juturna” and “On Letting Go,” its first two records, a lot of songs also deviate towards more mature, melodic elements. Chalk that up to Green becoming a more talented guitar player, leading him to emerge as the principal songwriter.
Traditionally, one of Circa Survive’s best strengths is its ability to start subtle and gradually crescendo into a powerful release. This skill is clearly evident on “Strange Terrain,” the first track off the album. The music and lyrics build and build and build for the first 90 seconds until they finally culminate into a power chorus.
“Get Out” is the second track and the lead “single” off the album. The song starts out very vocal driven but soon gives way to some fancy guitar work by guitarists Colin Frangicetto and Brendan Ekstrom and ends with Green screaming extended “get outs” repeatedly. This is one of the more powerful tracks on the record.
“Glass Arrows” is the third track and starts out slower but builds into a strong chorus with chanting gang vocals and strong drums.
The band starts to show off its evolution on the fourth track, “I Felt Free,” which comes off like an experimental band attempting a ballad. The effort is admirable, but it still feels like something is missing.
“Imaginary Enemy” and “Through the Desert Alone” pick up the tempo again, but “Frozen Creek” mellows out again. The slower songs start to run together and begin to sound like something that would be on Green’s solo album.
The songs aren’t bad by any means, but they’re definitely missing that bite when the band is using its traditional songwriting strengths and is at its best.
The best mellow track, “Dyed in the Wool,” is found at the very end of the record. Singing about potentially abandoning a struggling relationship, Green shows an extended range and gives the song, and the record, a powerful ending.
Being a long time follower of Circa Survive and Anthony Green fanboy, it’s very hard for me to write anything negative about the band. But as the members get older and their sound evolves, the results appear to be a more mellow, mature sound that is more straightforward than their previous material. The album is solid, but won’t be replacing “On Letting Go” on my iPod anytime soon.
Score: 3.5 out of 5
“Dyed in the Wool”