The Appleseed Cast – Low Level Owl: Volume I

The Appleseed Cast
Low Level Owl: Volume I

The Appleseed Cast evolved from a band unsure of their abilities and sound on their first album into one that has tremendous ability and confidence on their second. Mare Vitalis, their sophomore release, was a brilliant affair of layered sounds, studio experimentation, long and complex songs, and still a good bit of rock. Now, with their third release, the band is trying to take their sound even further. Hence we have Low Level Owl, a two-CD set released separately that flows from one song into the next seemlessly and experiments even more with new sounds and new ambition.

Low Level Owl is a work of great beauty focused around the typical guitar-bass-drums-vocals combination but escalating beyond that. Although some may dislike the band because of their willingness to go beyond rock sensibilities, that’s what makes their music so impressive. They’re willing to try new things and experiment with backward drums and guitar, layers upon layers of backup vocals or guitar parts, drum and guitar loops, and even some samples on this release. The songs are quiet and subtle at one moment and explode at the next with crashes of sound and crescendos of cryptic and poetic lyrics.

It’s virtually impossible to describe these songs as independent pieces, yet that’s been true on each of this band’s albums. The songs are meant to flow together, and to take one out of context deprives it somewhat of its potential and atmosphere. On Volume I of Low Level Owl, the band includes 14 songs, some of which are fully fleshed-out pieces with vocals and brilliant melodies and others that are more experimental, flowing interludes.

A few, in particular, are worth mentioning as an example of what the band is accomplishing here. The gorgeous layered backing vocals over the kind of crisp, melodic guitars the band has perfect, make up the lovely “On Reflection,” which leads nicely into the more urgent and crashing “Blind Man’s Arrow.” The eerie “Messenger” is just ambient drone, short and sweet, and making a nice intro to the powerful instrumental “Doors Lead to Questions,” highlighted by the band’s amazing drummer. The one song that could stand on its own, “Steps and Numbers” is the highlight, powerful and intense yet full of melodic guitar and layered effects. The poppy “Mile Marker” continues a more light feel developed by the chimey instrumental “Bird of Paradise” yet somewhat belied by the lyrics, “I’m dying. These are the colors and shades of a heart that is broken.” Some gorgeous yet moody guitar makes up “A Tree for Trials” and leads into the more up-tempo and rocking “Signal,” which makes use of several layers of guitar and showcases the band’s atmospheric vocals. Finally, things end with “View of a Burning City,” which apparently also starts Volume II. This is an 8-minute ambient affair, filled with hushed samples and effects, droning guitars, and ambient keys for a very soothing and yet somewhat sinister finale, quite likely a nice transition into the rest of Volume II.

Some are going to say that The Appleseed Cast recorded one excellent album of material and released it split between two volumes that include shorter musical experimentations. Yet I feel those interludes are vital to the flow and feel of this album. They could almost be tied into the other songs as intros or conclusions, but they better make brief periods in between, maintaining the flow and progressing it from one mood to the next much as a novel or movie progresses.

And that’s what The Appleseed Cast has really done here: they’ve created one long piece that’s a brilliant example of thematic storytelling through great cascading music. The only real fault here is that you are only getting half of the full work. The songs are supposed to blend together, including from the last song to the first of Volume II, and that album is not yet released. The band should have released them together if they belong together, but perhaps there’s something to be gained by digesting half before its companion is released.