It's been five years since Massachusetts post-rock six-piece Caspian delivered the rightfully acclaimed Dust and Disquiet in 2015. On it, they reinvented post-rock's static modernism through composed and richly textured layers of instrumentation and sonic effects designed to enable spacious rhythmic and timbral experiments. They created a scope far more intuitively cinematic and sonically expansive than music made by virtually any of their peers. Produced and engineered by Will Yip, the eight-song On Circles was cut in a Pennsylvania studio during the month of May in 2019. Yip intuitively illustrates Caspian's intent to find the invisible intersection between self-generated propulsive rock energy, seduction, and a trance-like penchant for reverie.
"Wildblood" is telegraphed horizontally from a simple keyboard vamp and adorned by strummed chords, low-tuned bass, flitting woodwinds, and an otherworldly saxophone courtesy of guest John Aruda. When it begins to move at two minutes in, guitars clash in the foreground as punchy tom-toms and crash cymbals underscore their force. First single "Flowers of Light" offers interlocking synth grooves that in turn create a foundation for distorted guitars to deliver increasing disorder with each repeated instrumental chorus. It's nearly transcendent. Pianos Become the Teeth's Kyle Durfey lends a guest vocal to "Nostalgist," a track that marries the ghostly body of shoegaze to lush ambience and swirling indie guitar rock. "Division Blues" adds cellos and violins as ballast for the wafting, bell-like guitars in a processional waltz time, swelling and shrinking bar by bar until the entire enterprise becomes a gorgeous squalling rock monolith. "Ishmael" also contains strings. It commences like the forlorn afterthought of a demo with ragged violin and cello playing at one another as an acoustic guitar is strummed in the backdrop before it gels and the players turn toward one another. The title track and second single "Circles on Circles," which closes the album, was actually their first-ever vocal track. Guitarist/keyboardist Philip Jamieson croons inside the mix of guitars, thudding kick drums, and rumbling bass drone as washes of pillowy yet jagged sound cascade through and over the entire mix. Unlike much of the endless reaching so common in post-rock, Caspian's approach is to explore the physicality of stasis as a dynamic force. While the tune slips, shuffles, and swoons -- almost breathing as it frames Jamieson's voice -- it remains pretty much at its point of origin. On Circles is a fully mature, expertly wrought offering. The compositional craft inherent in these songs, coupled with Caspian's refusal to be seduced or distracted by the trappings of their past, as well as post-rock's tropes, makes this a vital entry in their catalog. At once exploratory, expressive, physical, and reflective, On Circles never forsakes musicality for dramatic affect but achieves it in spades nonetheless.