The Appleseed Cast Sagarmatha

[The Militia Group/Graveface; 2009]

Styles:  post-rock
Others: Radiohead, ISIS, Explosions in the Sky, Bark Psychosis

I’ve followed The Appleseed Cast ever since they were a second-rate emo band back in the late ’90s with the release of End of the Ring Wars. At the time, the band’s sound could be described as a less-appealing version of Mineral (circa Power of Failing) or a noisier Diary-era Sunny Day Real Estate. Shortly after Ring Wars was released, however, the band members relocated from California to Kansas and, by my approximation, began a run with Mare Vitalis and Low Level Owl Vol. 1 & 2 that should have catapulted them into near-mythic status. Regardless of the band’s unrestrained creativity at the time — brandishing pop songwriting with post-rock/shoegaze textures and ambience the likes of which had been missing in action since Bark Psychosis’ Hex or the final two Slowdive albums — those albums rarely get the acknowledgment they deserve. This may have something to do with the goodwill that the band has squandered on two mediocre albums, Two Conversations (Tigerstyle, 2003) and Peregrine (The Militia Group, 2006), which neither critics nor fans (myself included) can agree upon.

Sagarmatha will hopefully go at least a little way toward correcting those missteps, as it is hands down the strongest album The Appleseed Cast have released since Low Level Owl. A major contributing factor is the return of that album’s producer, Ed Rose, who wisely submerges singer/guitarist Chris Crisci’s voice amidst the lovely guitars instead of placing them at the forefront. Not that Crisci has a bad voice, it’s just that part of the problem with Two Conversations was the production, which often spotlighted the more palatable aspects of the band rather than the interesting ones. Another plus with Sagarmatha is the seemingly renewed interest in emphasizing the rhythm section. This album’s heavy drums and weighty bass are recorded in a manner that could be likened to the sound of the drums on Isis’ Oceanic.

And it all meshes into some interesting tracks. “So The Little Things Go” stares down impatience with nearly six minutes of guitar wrangling before a brief vocal section finally appears near the end of the song, sounding distant and slightly distorted. “A Bright Light” starts off with a familiar arpeggiated guitar line that the band has used in previous incarnations throughout their career, yet the track ends with one of the most massive riffs ever employed in their catalog. Following track “The Road West” is an instrumental built around a Terry Riley-esque repeating keyboard fragment fleshed out with heavy-handed percussion. But the real standout of Sagarmatha is “The Summer Before,” a pop song so nicely constructed that it would easily fit onto Low Level Owl alongside tracks like “Blind Man’s Arrow” or “Milemarker.” Still, the band seems hellbent on showing its heavier side, particularly on the aforementioned “A Bright Light,” “Raise the Sails,” and the majority of “South Facing Col.”

The only glaring problem plaguing Sagarmatha is the inclusion of two sections, one at the end of “South Facing Col” and the entirety of “An Army of Fireflies,” which ends the album on a somewhat sour note. After a dramatic buildup in “South Facing Col,” which leads to a piano segue, the band charges headfirst into a cheesy guitar solo heretofore unprecedented on any previous albums. It sounds like music you’d hear on Melrose Place or 90210. It only lasts about a minute, but it begins a descent that continues with the godawful funk-scratching guitars and plastic-sounding drum machine opening of “An Army of Fireflies.” If these parts were carved off the tail end of Sagarmatha, the album would easily act as a solid entry into the band’s catalog and one worthy of higher praise. Still, The Appleseed Cast have finally managed to get things back on track, which will hopefully influence revisionists to give these guys their proper dues.

1. So the Little Things Go
2. A Bright Light
3. The Road West
4. The Summer Before
5. One Reminder, An Empty Room
6. Raise the Sails
7. Like a Locust (Shake Hands With the Dead)
8. South Facing Col
9. An Army of Fireflies

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