Music

The Appleseed Cast: Sagarmatha

Jeremy Ohmes
Photo: Chris Strong

The Appleseed Cast manage to take epic to new heights and release the post-rock album that many wish Mogwai would have made years ago.


The Appleseed Cast

Sagarmatha

Label: The Militia Group
US Release Date: 2009-02-17
UK Release Date: 2009-02-17
Amazon
iTunes

Full disclosure: Back in 2005, I filled in on keyboards for a band that toured with the Appleseed Cast for two weeks. I had never listened to Appleseed before, but I knew their name ran in the same circles as other mid-to-late-‘90s emo outfits -- Braid, Mineral, Christie Front Drive, Boys Life. They had a sizable cult following, as any band that managed to escape the second wave of emo and stay intact half a decade later would and should. But, even before our first show together, I had already dismissed them as some washed-up late-twentysomethings trying to cling to that aching early-twentysomething emo/hardcore zeitgeist. Naturally, I was wrong.

From the first atmospheric swells and crescendoing chords at that first show in St. Louis, it was obvious that whatever doe-eyed emo tendencies the Appleseed Cast once possessed now lay dormant some eight years later. Their last three albums had displayed a newfound experimentalism, burying any traces of emotional wreckage under dense clouds of dissonance and hypnotic, slowburning drones. Epic instrumentals had become staples of their set -- the music conveying dreams, hopes, heartache, and despair better than any lyrics could capture. And even when singer Chris Crisci shambled up to the mic, the vocals came off as surefooted and convincing, supported by wisdom and grace instead of wonder and angst.

For most of the tour, Appleseed previewed tracks from their sixth album, Peregrine, and the songs suggested an even more refined and mature take on the post-rock that they had so wholeheartedly embraced. Billowing riffs and effect-laden hooks nestled within complex arrangements, and in the course of one song the sounds would shapeshift from noise to pop to psychedelic rock and back again. By the end of the tour, I was convinced that the Appleseed Cast was the Midwest’s very own version of Mogwai.

Their new album, Sagarmatha, pretty much cements that status. Using “Sagarmatha” -- Nepalese for Mount Everest -- as their inspiration, the Appleseed Cast manage to take epic to new heights and release the post-rock album that many wish Mogwai would have made years ago. The first song alone takes the listener on a tour of the genre.

“As the Little Things Go” kicks off the album with three minutes of intricate, looping guitar patterns tempered by scattered drums and other sonic flourishes. Then an acoustic guitar appears like the dawn, surrounded by atmospheric synths, e-bowed notes, shakers, and sleigh bells before it violently crashes into a thunderstorm of monolithic riffs and cymbals. Less than a minute later, an upbeat melody tries to latch on, only to be swept away in a two-minute deluge of delayed guitars and distorted, whooshing vocals. And that’s just the first song.

The next two songs, clocking in at seven and eight minutes, dish out the dynamics in hefty doses, too. “A Bright Light” rides a catchy, loping bassline into a meaty hook, while the wash of effects pedals seems ever-present in the background. The instrumental “The Road West” opens up with a delayed piano line and underwater low-end that sounds like a long-lost Cure song before a skipping, electronic beat segues into a tom-pounding metal showstopper that further segues into an undulating anthem of synth/guitar arpeggios.

According to songwriters Crisci and Aaron Pillar, Sagarmatha was intended to be an entirely instrumental full-length at first, and it’s evident that the music was painstakingly created and cared for while the vocals were an afterthought. Despite this, the vocals, usually soaked in effects, never distract or trip up the songs. Instead, they serve as a 6th, 7th, or sometimes 20th instrument, adding another melody to the mix. And on the poppiest song on the album, “Raise the Sails”, the singing actually takes front and center… somewhere in the middle, around two minutes in, after the marching, ominous beginning and before the fluttering, Tortoise-like ending.

At times, the stops and starts, tempo changes and constant crescendos seem like little more than a watered-down encyclopedic definition of post-rock, especially with the heavy-handed histrionics and rollercoaster structure of songs like “South Col”. And one has to wonder if it’s a little late in the game to make a record that would have sounded fresh and influential ten years ago, but comes off as slightly derivative now. But looking at the Appleseed Cast’s musical trajectory, Sagarmatha is the next step in the evolution of the band, and looking at the rise and plateau of post-rock, this record is better late than never.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image