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Music Review: Caspian – Tertia

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I don't envy bands working within the "crescendo-core" brand of post-rock. Because try as they might, they will inevitably be compared to and judged against their brethren as patches cut from the same cloth. After all, it's just another whisper swelling up to a glorious scream, right? In a sense, yes, it is. It can be reduced to its least common denominator, the same as any other genre, if you think about it cynically enough. However, this particular sub-genre has done its best to consistently dig a hole that all must try to crawl out of. The number of bands really branching out seem to be getting fewer instead of greater. And although that's also not too different from other genres, it probably does make the question a tad more honest. And that question that most people are really asking is "Do this new thing deviate – in a positive way – from the more popular, similar artist that I have heard of?"

Which brings us to Caspian. After a couple of critically-acclaimed releases, they are unleashing their latest album, Tertia. The ace up Caspian's sleeve, and the thing that gives them an edge over many of their counterparts, is their focus on immediacy of sound. Their debut EP, You Are The Conductor, was low on subtlety and high on skipping straight to quick and melodic outbursts of guitar storms. If Explosions In The Sky represented the more polished and seasoned veterans of the genre, then Caspian were the talented kids who simply needed to work out their ADD. Their following full-length, The Four Trees, expounded on that idea of tunefulness but also ventured into some more experimental, longer breathed – and ultimately successful – territory. It still had the youthful excitement of their debut, but was a more mature offering. Tertia seems to want to bring those two ideas back together, largely seeking to deliver a mixture of cut-to-the-chase anthems and thoughtful experiments.

Things start off sparsely with "Mie," an extended intro that gently builds until it bleeds into "La Cerva," where there is a sudden rush of guitar leading the charge for a sound assault. It's a battle of guitars that manages to coalesce often enough into a unified wall of sound, and makes for a fairly thrilling opening. And this is what Caspian does best. Fortunately, they don't just dwell on that shtick, as the more textured "Ghosts of the Garden City" expands that inclination out into a more multi-leveled form. It sometimes wanders a bit in focus, but it does strive for something more. "Malacoda" then comes in with another rush of melody. The album tends to see-saw back and forth between this formula of hyper-direct tracks followed by others that a bit more searching.

When the gentle and dreamy "Epochs In Dmaj" opens, it seems like some balance for the album has finally been met. It's a rather masterful reigning in of testoste-rock, all for the sake of simple beauty. Short, but effectively sweet. And surprisingly, when the anthemic bombast of "Of Foam And Wave" follows, its split-second shift back into driving rock seems more expertly tempered by their preceding siesta. It's a fairly glorious track and probably the highlight of the album.

At this point the record begins to wrap up much the way it began: alternating between these established moods and forms. By the time things wind to a close with the expansive "Sycamore", Caspian have more or less successfully merged some of the more disparate elements from their previous releases. It feels like they are perhaps one album away from greatness, but Tertia overall is a positive step forward.

So the variation on our original question becomes "Does Caspian differentiate itself that much from, say, Explosions In The Sky, or maybe godspeed! you black emperor?" Yes, in the obvious sense that they are different songs by a different group. Perhaps less specifically in that they are played well and with creative drive, and we can always use more bands playing more songs like that. But are they breaking new ground? No. Neither for themselves nor their chosen sub-genre of music. Tertia is a highly enjoyable and well-crafted album of tuneful, driving post-rock anthems, but it also comfortably settles into the obvious genre niche. They continue to build and craft a sound that is more confidently "Caspian," but it is still following steps left by those before them. For many that will be a highly enjoyable prospect, but for any who might not have been impressed by similar bands thus far, this one isn't trying to reinvent that wheel for you.

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About David R Perry