Caspian Tertia

[The Mylene Sheath; 2009]

Styles: instrumental rock
Others: Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, too many others to list here

Whatever else I may have to say about Caspian, I give the band credit for not self-applying the label “post-rock” when describing their music. If only their critics would show such restraint; of the dozen press clips stacked on the band’s MySpace page, half praise the New England fivesome for their (to quote Rocksound) “emotionally devastating post-rock.” Those of us who were blown away by the violent crescendos of “Like Herod” and “East Hastings” back in the late 90s will have no trouble finding our footing in the soaring guitar solos and crashing cymbal storms of Tertia. But sprawling, wordless instrumentals do not a post-rock album make. As Elliott Sharp astutely pointed out in his review of Do Make Say Think’s Other Truths, post-rock that easily settles into a predictable pattern violates the fundamental concept of an aesthetic that was supposed to defy easy categorization.

No, Tertia is unmistakably — and to its credit, unabashedly — a rock album. While the external trappings suggest Godspeed You! Black Emperor, there’s a polish and lack of subtlety that moves Caspian closer to the mainstream. You won’t find any delicate balance between dissonance and delirium here: even the most cacophonous moments in songs like “Malacoda” and “The Raven” feel rehearsed and unspontaneous. Each instrument is carefully compartmentalized: the drums, bass and rhythm guitars laying the foundation; the warm synth-wash in the background; and screaming over the top of it all, the lead guitar, high-pitched and laden with enough reverb to make it sound like a refugee from a U2 jam session. The handful of quieter tracks don’t do much to add variety, either. Album opener “Mie” feels like a glorified intro, while “Epochs in Dmaj” comes off as a less textured interpretation of “Mogwai Fear Satan.”

The album comes packaged with “Tertia-or-Reverie,” a labored, five-page prose-poem by J. Bennet Bonilla. If only some happy medium could be struck — some middle ground between Bonilla’s impenetrable blank verse and the band’s guileless grandiosity — then Caspian might yet impress us. They’re capable enough musicians with a solid sense of melody and pacing. But that’s only a starting point, and in the post-post-rock musical milieu of the early teens, an instrumental rock band can’t keep playing the same cards Explosions in the Sky laid down 10 years ago.

Links: Caspian - The Mylene Sheath

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