CASPIAN- ‘On Circles’

First, Caspian went dark. Their last album, ‘Dust and Disquiet’, might not have been their loudest but it was certainly their most intense- a storm cloud of post-rock influenced by anxiety, uncertainty and death. And then Caspian went quiet. That shadowy opus was easily a career-best but they’ve followed it up with five years of silence. 

The Massachusetts men don’t want you to call their new record a “redemption,” a “rise from the ashes,” or even a “comeback” though. Instead, ‘On Circles’ posits that there is nothing for its makers to come back from, that music can, maybe, be made without weight of expectation, and that creation might sometimes be for its own sake. This, in their own words, is “an existential meditation, an acceptance of the cyclical nature of both life and career.”

If that sounds like Caspian want this album to just… be, then on first listen, it obliges. It’s a pleasant and content-sounding record but pretty passive compared to almost everything the band have done before. Oh sure, there are a few things that are immediate and impossible to ignore- ‘Flowers of Light’ might be the best song Sigur Ros never wrote, ‘Collapser’ is damn heavy- but on the whole this isn’t a record that demands attention. Where ‘Dust and Disquiet’ was the band’s most coherent and commanding outing, with few words but a real sense of narrative, this is loose, laid-back, and almost a scrapbook of songs. 

‘On Circles’ is not exactly a rollercoaster then. But sit with it long enough and it will still take you places. Repeat listens reveal clever textures, inventive melodies, original dynamics and tiny details that creep into your brain and refuse to leave. It might take a while to tune into the slow-blooming melodies of ‘Ishmael’, the saxophone swirls of ‘Wildblood’, or subtly warped notes at the beginning of ‘Division Blues’ and the chiming bell sounds midway through, but these small, special moments keep blooming. 

Over time the record starts to feel organic, carved out of wood, or grown out of the ground even. It’s not been programmed to crescendo at just the right time, it crescendos when it damn well pleases. And it creaks and cascades and careens too. Instead of a calculated consistency, there’s a remarkable warmth, a strikingly sincere realness. On the wrong day it’s something that could completely pass you by, but up close, in focus, it’s beautiful. Dust in a sunbeam. The most brilliant thing. 

Caspian might not want ‘On Circles’ to be labelled a certain way but they shouldn’t have worried, only superlatives will stick here. Don’t call it a comeback, call it an early candidate for album of the year.

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