[12 January 2010]
Caspian’s full length debut The Four Trees garnered post-rock designations and accolades for the Beverly, Massachusetts group. It was sprawling, sweeping, and epic in scale and scope, covering a vast terrain of sonic qualities that typically accompany a genre that has been ambiguously referred to as crescendocore, which is to say that there is an intense buildup and release, making it the equivalent of a musical orgasm. Now, with their sophomore release, Caspian deftly escapes the pitfalls of bad posture and proudly presents Tertia with a richness that embodies the landscape of New England.
It needs to be said, however, that you’ve heard this kind of music before in the likes of Explosions in the Sky, A Northern Chorus, Joy Wants Eternity, and Do Make Say Think. In and of itself it is nothing new, and therein is the challenge for Caspian: how to make an increasingly inclusive sound seem new in the listener’s ears? It’s a given that the guitars will arc way above the median range of notes and chords, and that the percussion will fellow in parts equally tame and cacophonous as structure dictates. The bass, of course, will hold down the pulsing low end to level things out into an evenly crafted wall of sound. The only other options are to add vocals, which seems to be utterly taboo, or subtle new elements that can supersede monotony.
With wonderful range and vision Caspian has opted for the latter, introducing a thicker, heavier sound to “La Cerva” that veers momentarily toward something the folks at Southern Lord might appreciate. The cello is also utilized fantastically here, as well as on “Vienna” and album closer “Sycamore”. “Ghosts of the Garden City” begins with soft touches of the glockenspiel before entering a manic frenzy of conclusion. Caspian is also careful to change the pace from time to time, as with the gentle ethereality of “Epochs in Dmaj” and the soft patience of “Concrescence”.
Accompanying the music is a lyrical piece included as an insert to the CD package. The poem by J. Bennett Bonilla, titled “Tertia – Or Reverie,” is complimentary to the swirling collage of Caspian’s music, and is best read while the album plays in the background in alternating states of the serene and stentorian. And that’s the best part of Tertia, the graceful meditative ease it affords the listener, even at its most clustered.
When it’s over Tertia is proof that Caspian has worked hard to create a cohesive album that transcends the music industry’s tendency to categorize everything into a convenient label. Post-rock, avant garde, shoegaze, crescendocore; these are just terms that indicate a certain style of music but not the identity of the bands themselves. They are as arbitrary as the lofty heights their purveyors often seek, and Caspian knows it. With key tempo changes, well-spaced arrangements, and delicate instrumental insertions Tertia succeeds in capturing an earthen mood even as it soars to scrape the upper levels of the atmosphere. But, to be sure, it doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you know that it’s really, really good.