“Music is our strongest antidote to feelings of emptiness and disquiet.” So says Phil Jamieson, one of the founding members of Caspian, and truth be told, it’s hard to disagree with the man.
After all, although Caspian only formed back in 2003, the Massachusetts-bred post-rock collective have already carved out a unique niche for themselves as masters of multi-layered catharsis, their songs ranging from aggressive hard rockers to thickly melodic acoustic laments to experimental electronic pieces, and somehow, just somehow, they always manage to keep it together. In fact, in his 2010 review of the re-release of Caspian’s first two notable forays into the world, PopMatters’ own Zach Corsa summed the band up thusly: “To put it in so many words, if you had to point to one lasting document, one Exhibit A to testify for the validity and emotional power of the entire instrumental post-rock genre, then you’d be hard-pressed to pick a more winning example than Caspian’s brilliant The Four Trees.”
What’s perhaps most frustrating about the group’s aesthetic is how although they are consistently improving themselves and refining their sound on each successive album, the group has remained free of controversies or overt outrageousness. Their most frequently compared-to brothers, Explosions in the Sky, went straight for the emotion time and time again, which lead to movie soundtracks and a much wider audience, leaving Caspian to do things the old fashioned way: record, tour, and just build up your fanbase one person at a time.
As such, the lush, heavily melodic Dust and Disquiet, so aptly named for the band’s fourth album, is finally out. To help celebrate the occasion, we asked Jamieson to pick out five records that were most important to him and what they meant to his musical development. His selections are all fascinating, but the connective tissues is that each one of these albums rely on big, colorful melodic gestures, some (clearly) more cheerful than others, but all of these discs sum up the driving sounds of Caspian remarkably well. Let the countdown begin.
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1. Stars of the Lid The Tired Sounds Of
I can’t point to a single record that more massively re-configured the way my mind and body experience music than this did upon first encounter in 2004. The approach to space, sound, texture, structure, mood, patience: it changed the way I listen to recorded music plain and simple. A boorish music listener might not see a whole lot of difference between this and cheeseball New Age yoga soundscapes. To me it’s modern Wagner, continuing the finest traditions of classical music into the modern age, blending modern and classic instrumentation. It’s true composition operating within a unique, sophisticated atmosphere without being overly pretentious: the best combination. These guys and this record saved my life.
2. Led Zeppelin IV
Zeppelin IV is the ultimate rock record and has pretty much everything one could ever want from one. Confident, ambitious songwriting that still retains a raw edge, a multiplicity of guitar, drum and vocal sounds that speak to the tone of each song. Zeppelin will always be my favorite band of all time, and this is where they delivered their knockout punch and sealed the deal for eternity. The moment I heard the soft and delicate finger picked folk stylings of “Going to California” slowly fade out and almost awkwardly segue into that infamously massive, gut punching beat of “When the Levee Breaks” was the moment I realized that you can do whatever the hell you want on a rock record, and that juxtaposing styles is what makes a lot of this exciting.
3. Sun Kil Moon Ghosts of the Great Highway
This is one of those impossibly rare go-to records that I have listened to over 1,000 times and can still pop on whenever and still enjoy like it was the first time all over again. I can’t think of another album that accomplishes that for me to be honest. More importantly it was my introduction to the music of Mark Kozelek which has become a full on obsession/addiction of mine that I have no regrets over and has enriched my love of music and the human presence of the songwriter behind it, for better or for worse. It opened up a portal that I’m still immersed in, appreciating and celebrating all of the different arcs of his career all the time.
4. William Basinski The Disintegration Loops
Nostalgia is always going to be one of the main inspirations behind anything I create and this record feels like the ultimate ode to it. A full on commitment not just in sound and tone but in the actual mechanics of why it sounds the way it sounds from a perspective of technology (Wikipedia it). This is a record that probes through my mind with laser sharp precision, churning up everything from buried childhood memories to week old dreams that slipped through the cracks in the moment. It has the power.
5. Radiohead Kid A
I experienced Kid A at the exact right moment of my life. A shift in even a month or two on either side would have maybe lessened its impact, I’m not sure. All I know is that Kid A is my favorite record of all time, not just for the obviously brilliant music it possesses, but for what it represents as a document of a band occupying a unique moment of time, and for what it represents to me as a human being, trying to decide exactly what it is that I want to do with my limited time alive. The answer all along was music, but it was this record that allowed me to see that with the sharpest clarity imaginable.