The Appleseed Cast have popped on and off my radar frequently over the past 10 years, starting off with a chance download of 'Fishing the Sky' on the nascent Audiogalaxy p2p service (anyone remember that? Preferred it to Napster as it would queue songs overnight, which in dial-up days was more requirement than convenience). From there, individual songs have found their way onto my CDR's and playlists, followed by overdue purchases of highlight releases Mare Vitalis and Low Level Owl volumes. See, majors? Freebies lead to sales.
Whilst I haven't exactly ever gone overboard with the band, the aforementioned Mare Vitalis has always been reassuringly there in the background, like a friend you only see every now and then but the relationship is always easy when you again catch up. So I was happy, rather than ecstatic, when the news of Sagarmatha's early 2009 release came to my awareness.
The album is notably vocally sparse, with the only fully lyric-laden song being The Summer Before, a floating, spacious tune in which the singing is almost carried away on the breeze of the melody. The lyrics allude to lazy, baking days in the left coast states, welcomely complementing the utterly compelling track that precedes it, The Road West. This is a lilting, delicate instrumental ride that initially wouldn't be out of place on a Sigur Ros record. Slowly building with synths and cautious melody, it breaks into a more recognisable AC effort with a harder rocking peak in the middle, evoking mountainous skyline imagery that befits the album title (the world's highest national park, atop Mount Everest in Nepal). It's an early highlight that gives a lush nod to the path the remainder of the album will take.
What The Appleseed Cast appear to have done here is simply follow their collective instincts towards building a beautiful journey album. Usually bands will decide one direction or the other - completely naked instrumental concept or falling back into the need for vocals on every track to avoid confusion. Far from being misleading, the infrequent lyrical appearances actually direct the listen particularly well, adding necessary atmosphere and location when the audience may be floating off into the distance with the expansive instrumental melodies. The whole effort is so open and delicately crafted that the words, particularly on Raise the Sails, provide an effective anchor.
Taken as an individual release, Sagarmatha isn't a million miles away from the plethora of post-rock releases in recent years. It recalls the better moments of Explosions in the Sky and nods towards the sparse, delicate synths sometimes employed by This Will Destroy You [see Like a Locust (Shake Hands With The Dead)]. It could be argued that it simply adds to the crowd in this way, yet there's a clear distinction for The Appleseed Cast when compared to their previous works. The progression from the harder rocking early days, through the lighter years and more recent left-field conceptual approach of Peregrine, to my mind, only adds to the experience. It widens the journey aspect of this album out across their entire career and can surely only engender more respect for the stylistic storms the band has weathered and the resulting beauty of which they continue to be capable.
Without being a mind-blowing listening experience, Sagarmatha is an utterly absorbing and evocative album that represents another peak for the band. Wherever their journey is taking them, the band is clearly willing to let it unfold naturally and make whatever stops seem appropriate along the way. It may not always make immediate sense but if the result is more releases of this quality, then it's unlikely many will complain about the delays.
The Appleseed Cast Myspace
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MP3: The Appleseed Cast - The Summer Before
MP3: The Appleseed Cast - Fishing the Sky
Now playing: The Appleseed Cast - Woodland Hunter (Part 1)