Over the past decade, the post-rock genre has lost much of its original radical spark. What once seemed like a revolutionary genre bent on breaking from traditional verse-chorus song structures and typical rock instrumentation now seems to have yielded its own limitations. The surfeit of instrumental bands today often rehash basic post-rock formulas, emulating the crescendos and diminuendos of Explosions in the Sky, the reverberating feedback of Mogwai, and the labyrinthine orchestration of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
In 2012, however, Caspian rekindled the embers of the fading genre. Releasing Waking Season to wide critical acclaim vaulted the Massachusetts-based sextet to a position alongside the aegis-bearers of the genre. But rather than dealing exclusively in the atmospheric textures and epic runtimes so prevalent in post-rock, Caspian expanded its palette, coloring its cathartic releases with rhythmic and melodic polyphonies and the nuanced additions of programmed voices, beats, and loops.
If Waking Season altered the trajectory of the genre, Caspian’s latest release, Dust and Disquiet, aims even higher. Placing cinematic swells and retreats in a mélange of delicate arpeggios, thrashing metal, and haunting vocality, Dust and Disquiet reimagines what post-rock music can do.
The album begins in familiar territory with its opening track “Separation No. 2″. The build of a meandering guitar in three-four time is galvanized by a crooning trumpet and sheets of corrugated loops, rising with the final textures of strings and an acoustic guitar, before dissipating into placid reflection. “Ríoseco” carries over the tender arpeggios from “Separation”, brushing their contours around Joe Vickers’ cavernous drumbeat. The song inflates a brooding, odd time bridge into a distorted clangor, rife with feedback and guitar squeals, but without concealing the beauty of the main melody.
The first single from the album, “Arcs of Command”, reestablishes the previous song’s fiery intensity. With a polylogue of electronic loops, syncopated guitar riffs, and primal tom blasts, all sharply punctuated by Vickers’ cymbal crashes, “Arcs” is like a prog-metal melee, equal parts resplendent and eviscerating. Adrenaline still running high, “Echo and Abyss” delivers a cavalcade of clashing grunge. Luridly distorted guitars volley back and forth underneath an obscured vocal melody and throat-threshing screams.
The fierceness of the album’s opening quad retreats into the sullen acoustics of “Run Dry”, perhaps the most surprising track on the record. Opting for a simple acoustic guitar and a spare vocal melody, instead of their usual complex electric instrumentation, the song moves like an embittered lullaby: “Weep until you drown/ until you run dry.”
“Run Dry” functions like a pivot for the record, marking a departure from the raw brutality of the first half, and a movement into lush soundscapes. With two transitional tracks, “Equal Night” and “Aeternum Vale”, the second half could feel unbalanced, but even these tracks convey unique tonal interventions, as evidenced by the latter’s slackened flamenco feel.
With a piano and glockenspiel twinkling around a cymbal heavy procession, “Sad Heart of Mine” achieves Sigur Rós-like transcendence. “Darkfield” poses alternative percussion rhythms against electronic pulses, charting out a sonic space somewhere between El Ten Eleven, 65daysofstatic, and Mogwai.
The album’s titular closing track is its most breathtaking. An 11-minute opus, “Dust and Disquiet” stretches its climactic ascension across permutations of guitar shimmer. Rising out of iridescent interludes and denouements, the song finds its crescendo and cathartic release.
Altogether, Dust and Disquiet reclaims and reinterprets the radical impulse of originary post-rock. Its richly textured layers and its rhythmic and timbral experimentation offer new paradigms for writing instrumental music, both in scope and in intricacy. If Waking Season meant to reawaken the stagnating genre of post-rock, Dust and Disquiet fully realizes this return to life. Or to echo the refrain in “Run Dry”, “We’re wide awake now.”