Appleseed Cast Takes DC9 Stage on Heels of Sagarmatha

Didn't take long for the Appleseed Cast to smartly ditch emo after their outstanding 1998 debut, but despite sweeping changes in the decade since, the music on new LP, "Sagarmatha," remains emotive.

It's in Christopher Crisci's voice, but I'll get back to that.

After having reinvented themselves with electronics, space rock, slowcore, drone and good ol' psychedelia through the years, "Sagarmatha" finds the Appleseed Cast making cinematic post-rock in the vein of Explosions in the Sky -- when they're airy -- or Mogwai -- when they rock out. The band moves away from the more melodic territory of 2006's "Peregrine" and strives for more complex compositions with more twists and turns.

From the beginning, opening track "As the Little Things Go," this sounds like soundtrack rock. Most of the songs stretch from 6:30 past 8 minutes long, but they build slowly then change direction frequently and smoothly in such a way that the time doesn't seem to be passing. The best example is "Raise the Sails," which broods for almost two minutes, then drastically changes toward a more upbeat -- though still downbeat -- sound for another minute or so before a noisy segue into sparse acoustic and electronic territory. It rides out a mellow groove for a while, then crescendos to a biggish finish. All the while, it manages to maintain a consistent vibe, and 6 and a half minutes have passed by like a blip.

The Cast take another stab at electronics with the instrumental "Like a Locus (Shake Hands with the Dead)." It's a little bit techno, but too Appleseedy for the club. And "The Road West" is two soft instrumentals in one, suggesting a plot turn but without lyrics to guide the listener.

That's the problem I have with the record. Not enough of Crisci's singing. He's proven enough of a poet in the past that I want to hear what has to say, and I love the way he sings it. His tender vocals are haunting and depressing but beautiful, powerful. With many of these songs being instrumental -- and the others placing a minimum on lyrics -- the band's ignoring their strongest instrument. And when he does sing, his ethereal voice is low in the mix and often diminished with vocodery.

Scattered among attempts at epics are a couple of more traditional songs, like the wistful dream-pop of "The Summer Before" and the up tempo "South Col," the most rock song on the album with a big sound but still awash in electronic ambience with plenty of twists and turns.

I can't rank this album as high as the "Low Level Owls" of 2001, but I'll give it a nod over "Peregrine." It's good growth for an ever-evolving band.

The Appleseed Cast headlines at DC9 tonight.

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