The Appleseed Cast
Illumination Ritual, 180G Electric Blue and Milky Clear Moon Phase Vinyl LP, Repress
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 2009’s Sagarmatha. By 2011’s Middle States EP, you could sense them circling back towards their original sound, and Illumination Ritual sticks the landing. Whether or not it’s Appleseed Cast’s best record feels irrelevant, though it’s 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, Crisci’s 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 aren’t too many singalong moments, Crisci’s vocals remain warm and melodic throughout and the production is crisp without being brittle. The concision carries over to the instrumentals; “Branches on the Arrow Peak Revelation” and “Simple Forms” 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 “30 Degrees 3 AM”, the liminal feeling expressed in many of his lyrics are a result of walking the razor-thin line between “up too late” and “up too early.” There’s an unmistakably nocturnal mood to it all and it’s not the kind of wakefulness that’s a result of panic or some other insatiable mania: Crisci’s halting, elliptical lines evoke a moment where you can’t 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. -Pitchfork