Kansas-based post-rock unit the Appleseed Cast grew from their earliest emo days in the late '90s to develop into a tightly wound machine of atmosphere and dynamics, while still holding on to hints of their punky emo roots. For many listeners the band's high-water mark would be its epic 2001 effort, Low Level Owl, a declarative shift from vague yearning and frailty to moody compositional rock that drew influence from pioneering electronic producers, Brit-pop, and Radiohead's most cerebral phases. Some years later and after countless lineup changes, the band returns with its seventh full-length, Illumination Ritual, a warm and well-rounded set of songs that reaches the heights of unfettered creativity achieved on Low Level Owl but also shows the type of metered restraint that speaks of a band entering its 14th year of existence. Long instrumental passages make up a good amount of most of the songs here, from the glowing post-rock intro of "Adriatic to Black Sea" to the Daydream Nation-styled stretches of listless guitar sprawl that close "Barrier Islands (Do We Remain)." Stereo-panned electronics color the spare palette of "Simple Forms" before the band launches into a washy amble of guitar interplay and precision drumming. Drummer Nathan Wilder is a strong point of Illumination Ritual, playing frantically enough to push the dynamics of the songs without ever getting into overbearing showiness. Even on the laid-back "Cathedral Rings," Wilder's complex mathy rhythms support the song without taking center stage, allowing for an airy, coasting vibe not unlike early Sea and Cake. Throughout Illumination Ritual, the band seems fully committed to its sounds, truly engaged and inspired even in the most reflective or seemingly removed moments. With one foot in the constantly building atmospherics and experimentation of groups like Explosions in the Sky and the other in the openhearted optimism of the emo scene that they grew out of, Appleseed Cast offer up some of their best work to date on Illumination Ritual. The ten songs, while journeying through moments of tension and uncertainty, always return to an overarching feeling that embodies the hopefulness and promise of an early spring.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas