Caspian: The Four Trees (Dopamine Records, 2007)
Hailing from Massachusetts, Caspian break onto the post-rock scene with their first full-length The Four Trees. Philip, Cal, Eric, Joe and Chris play with a confident energy that blends staccato beats, ambience, walls of sound, acoustic stillness, volume control, and melodic moments to take your breath away. Sometimes, a band just has that energy from the start and this seems to be one of those bands. Of course, time will tell, but their freshman offering is polished and explosive, hopefully boding well for future musical excursions with this band.
The album begins with “Moksha”. A quietly bright feedback hum begins the piece as keys come into the mix. Beautiful bells and light guitars float amongst ambience that is soothing and expressive. Acoustic guitar brings up the volume as the rest of the instruments dance playfully in the mix. As the volume rises, the drums begin their staccato beat and the guitars begin to soar. The walls build and the musical canvas becomes deep and wide. The guitars heave, push, and swell as song progresses. The ambience eventually becomes prominent again, reminding me of Ulrich Schnauss’ work. The mix of styles and ebbs and flows of the track are brilliant and illustrious. Acoustic guitar gives the listener a respite as guitars whine in the background. Bass fills in the void and the drums slowly usher in another explosive moment. Epic in scope, “Moksha” sets up the listener for the journey that is the rest of the album.
“Some are White Light” begins with acoustic and electric guitars playing off of one another while bass and drums move the song forward. The melody is blissful and the drum work accents the movements, no the breathing, of this exquisite track. Fuzzed out walls explode as the tempo lumbers and the layers begin to build, one upon the other. Caspian’s ability to change song structure throughout a track shows careful arrangement and intuitive mastery of their craft. Never settling on one tempo, they are able to play with the same melody amidst different time signatures and instrumental arrangements. They exude a mature sound for such a young band. “Sea Lawn” hums into the speakers as subtle guitars move in and out of the wall of sound. Again, the band shows another face while keeping an incredible consistency in their work. Eventually, strong drums pierce the speakers and the bass comes in to fill in the gaps nicely. The guitars whisper through the speakers like whale calls and the acoustic punctuates the spaces. The Sea Lawn never sounded so green.
“Crawlspace” begins with the thud of bass and ominous guitars. Guitars sing throughout as they begin to layer, one on top of the other. The mood is somber and has the sense something epic coming on the horizon. The drums begin to pump and the volume goes up as the tension in the song is released. This breaks into thunderous walls of sound that thicken and congeal around aggressive percussion and bass. The drums and bass in this band really are the glue and they are brilliant at changing up the combinations while maintaining perfect tempo. Silence, then another explosive wall of sound drives and crashes on the listener. This fades and “Book IX” begins with patient guitars and powerful drums. The guitars ring in different speakers as they converse with one another. The bass is patient and lies perfectly in the pocket. The composition tells a story that is momentous and paints torrid landscapes. About half-way through, the bass buzzes amidst angry guitars and then back to acoustic guitar. The bridge build and the monstrous torrent of sound builds once again. Although this description might make it sound like a mash-up of noise, it is far from it. These newcomers use exquisite subtly in their composition and it seems that each not is perfectly chosen to fit the landscape painted by their huge sound.
“The Dropsonde” picks up on the theme of portentous happenings. The guitars rumble in and out, beating like a heart as they breathe life into the speakers. Then, feedback with light percussion soothes the listener as the volume comes down for a brief respite in the shortest track on the album. This leads seamlessly leads into “Brombie.” This continues the respite that builds into beautifully done bass work and soaring guitars. The drums pulse under the languid guitars and then, a burst of volume and fullness. The layers begin to build as melodies intertwine and weave into one another. This fades into quiet and then, a huge wall of sound is pushed out of the speakers. The variations in the song never get tiring and the energy is electric.
“Our Breath in Winter” begins with bass sitting on top of light guitar. The track is sparse and beautiful and placed perfectly within the sequence of songs on the album. Never overdoing it, nor being aggressive, this not only demonstrates the band’s versatility, but also Caspian is able to communicated complex, emotive music in a slow and quiet manner. “The Dove” begins with some music played backwards. The mood seems to be one of hope. As Winter fades and the snow gives way to bright colors, this song communicates that sort of warmth. I, personally, would love to have an entire disc of these sorts of compositions from this band. Drone-like and beautiful, the brightness shines on this track, whose name is appropriate. “Asa” begins as another breath of silence and then the drums move the track forward. Guitars jangle and sing amidst walls of sound. The track is much more hopeful in its melodies and ushers in another sort of sound as <b>Caspian</b> begins to bring the listen to the close of the music journey. The walls of sound reach the ceilings of heaven as the tide of sound reaches for the heights. The walls come back to earth and acoustic guitars plays till the fade. As the journey comes to a close, “…Reprise” plays quietly in the speakers and lulls the listener into a sense of calm once more. I guess the best word for this track would be breathtaking. Guitars dance playfully amidst backward tracks and humming bass. Bass comes to fore in the middle as acoustic guitars answers its call. And, as the listener becomes comfortable, when the listener is lulled into that peaceful moment, the guitars explode as drum and bass roar and push the track forward with all their might. As the track winds down, the band reminds the listener of the soothing sound and that the musical journey has ended.
So many words come to mind when I listen to Four Trees: epic, breathtaking, thunderous, monstrous, intricate, patient, purposeful, and on and on. This is a post-rock band to be reckoned with. They are not a carbon copy of others that have come before them. On their debut full-length, Caspian displays an incredibly mature sound that is complex and perfect.