The Appleseed Cast – Peregrine

Well it’s certainly no Low Level Owl, but The Appleseed Cast has returned with an album that is much better than 2003’s Two Conversation. Three years ago when that album was released, many people (myself included) thought that this Lawrence, Kansas group had lost the magic that made albums like Mare Vitalis and Low Level Owl so unexpectedly gorgeous. Despite what some critics would have you believe, Two Conversations was the sound of a group cowering in fear of trying to follow up a record that had landed them the title of “the American answer to Radiohead.” The majority of that record seemed like a snore-inducing trip through the back catalog of mid-90’s emo rock a la Mineral, Sunny Day Real Estate, or American Football. Fans were overheard making comments like “this is so similar to End of the Ring Wars,” but at least that album’s gritty underproduction lent it a sort of quaint feel that fans of Mineral’s Power of Failing took to heart.

For a band trying so hard to break free from the trappings of “emo,” it seems like an odd choice that The Appleseed Cast would end up releasing Peregrine on The Militia Group label. Militia Group is just as well known for emo now as Deep Elm once was, what with releases by former Deep Elm alums Brandtson and newer groups like Copeland under its belt. If Mare Vitalis was a departure, Low Level Owl made an obvious choice to shred any of The Appleseed Cast’s previous emo leanings to bits, with flowering elements of post-rock, space-rock, and a wee bit of shoegaze. That record paid its dues in blood to groups such as My Bloody Valentine, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Slowdive, Mogwai, Slint, Spiritualized, Radiohead, U2, and The Stone Roses.

So after releasing a mind-blowing double album of space-rock and then reverting back to indie-pop/emo, what do you do next? For a long time it seemed like the band was on the verge of completely breaking up. It gained and lost a keyboardist, toured with up-and-comers Chin Up Chin Up, lost and gained another drummer, toured with Chin Up Chin Up again, and then finally settled down for the daunting task of recording a follow up.

Peregrine isn’t an experimental post-rock record, nor is it another retread of the emo handbook either. This record occupies a space somewhere in the middle of all that, which is pretty disconcerting and unfortunate for the listener. “Ceremony” is a fairly stunning album opener in the key of Mogwai, all beautiful delayed guitar arpeggios slowly unfolding across some heavy-handed drumming. “Woodland Hunter (Part 1)” begins similarly to Chris Crisci’s solo Old Canes material with a junky-sounding acoustic guitar while he sings a plaintive refrain over the top. About a minute and a half into the track, you’ll want to note the first real difference between this album and most of the band’s previous works. With a squall of white-hot feedback, the band lets loose and rocks out harder than they probably ever have. Guitars crescendo until it sounds like the recording is seriously being pushed into the red, and then the song sputters out on a drum machine beat. Although the rock is kinda nice, it’s also kinda short and a little too similar to End of the Ring Wars.

My first real problem with Peregrine is in “Here We are (Family in the Hallway).” This song typifies the majority of lacklustre songs found on Two Conversations. Although with most everything the band has done, there are some pretty killer guitar lines wrapped up in this song that redeem its emo lyrical content. “Sila’s Knife” contains some slide guitar paired with electronics coming off like some kind of Death Cab For Cutie outtake, easing the listener into “Mountain Halo,” a total departure from all previous Appleseed Cast releases. This song is a completely electronic song with drum machines and a stunted keyboard melody. Although the music is somewhat underdeveloped, it’s the vocals that really kill this track. Overemoting pushed awkwardly into the foreground makes this attempt at a song fall completely flat.

The title track wouldn’t be all that bad coming from some other band, but from this band it seems like more End of the Ring Wars nonsense, but with better production. Crisci’s lyrics about “when you come back to me you will be on your knees” are the type of typical posturing I’d expect from a band like Taking Back Sunday, not the same group that made lyrical content completely unnecessary on tracks like “The Argument” and “Sunset Drama King.”

One thing I definitely want to address before my summary is the addition of Nate Jr. on drums. There has been considerable doubt amongst fans that he wouldn’t be able to fill the shoes of Josh “Cobra” Baruth. I just want to say that after seeing this band play one of the best shows I’ve ever seen to pretty much no one at a house show on the Mare Vitalis tour it was going to take some convincing to prove that they didn’t need Cobra. Nate Jr. does an excellent job of filling the space, so the drumming isn’t sub-par.

What concerns me most about a band like The Appleseed Cast is that it seems like it keeps regressing. Why create another record that is essentially just emo wrapped up in a prettier package, when we all know this band is capable of pushing the creative limits? Although Peregrine isn’t nearly as bad as Two Conversations, it still has quite a few faults. Some of the songs almost seem like The Appleseed Cast covers “insert generic indie band here”. Most of the instruments are still quite good. Although unlike most people, I am willing to forgive them for another misstep, I’d still like to see this band grab the brass ring.