Some bands hang around for a long time, producing similar but slight variations over a many year period, tweaking a tried and true format just a little with each new record. Others strive to create larger shifts in their sound over time to mixed results. There’s a certain amount of risk involved with either approach but most bands take that chance anyway with very few exceptions. For some it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t proposition because early adopters will inevitably find fault with anything to come after a particularly striking debut. On the other end of the spectrum, those coming late to a band tend to gravitate, as well, to the material bringing them into the fold. For a long-running band to successfully navigate this, they have to continue to pursue their craft in a way that leads to quality releases.
In that regard, we are nearly 15 years into the career of Circa Survive, a band who have worn their appreciation of, and admiration for, acts like Sunny Day Real Estate and Thrice on their sleeves from their very first notes. That said, the band have done a fairly solid job of evolving their sound in subtle ways with each new release in such a way that they don’t lose too many old fans nor do they turn off new fans. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about them is that you can hop throughout their catalog and find something that will suit what first drew you to their music while avoiding becoming cliches of their former selves.
See: “At Night It Gets Worse”, which is a song that trembles with a taut opening guitar lick setting up a pensive and edgy piece where Anthony Green lays a story out via his unique, almost Jeremy Enigk-style of vocals that is as compelling as anything the band have done before. His opening lines here, “I can’t afford to seize/I never stay for too long” is an example that further establishes the drama and pathos at play throughout The Amulet. That is well-communicated here in a sort of concision that seems to come from an effort shot through with cohesion. There is a flow to this record that this song summarizes extremely well.
“Stay” slingshots us into a higher tempo and shorter thematic exploration that sees the band breaking into slightly Coheed and Cambria-esque territory with perhaps some Minus the Bear-style dynamics thrown in for good measure. The lyrics in particular here invoke some very strong comparisons to those usually penned by Claudio Sanchez. That said, for its brevity and the manner in which the song quickly passes through the phases of the band’s current sound, if there were a radio friendly track, this would be it. And for anyone who is newly arriving to Circa’s sound… well, read on.
The massive, rumbling low-end created by bassist Nick Beard at the outset of “Rites of Investiture” sees the band shifting into a gear that can really only be described as the guys borrowing from the better, harder elements of none other than Muse. The song could easily have been ripped from one of that band’s writing sessions but there’s enough of Green’s own stamp alongside some slightly spacier notes that make this distinctly Circa. The breakdown sees them veer into the territory of upcoming tour-mates, Thrice. The bass may predominate the track but those opposite and spinning guitars keep you drawn into the song that, before you know it, abruptly comes to a halt. That hard stop just feels like something that will be explosive live. For any newcomers, it’s a great introduction to the abilities of this band who continue to morph, just so, with each new release.
Getting back to the band’s abilities to create cohesion from chaos on this album, this was something that we should have suspected all along when they went through various machinations on opening cut, “Lustration”, from a haunting vocal line into a whirlwind of drums and bass that spin out into a guitar driven chorus moving rapidly from station to station. It’s a fitting intro to the pattern of this storm that ebbs and swells for the greater part of the album’s seemingly all too brief 40+ minute run-time. The beauty in this track, in particular, is how it hints at what is to come but is more fully revealed for what it is on repeated listening after having heard the whole construct. The song, as with the larger album, yearns to be heard, understood, and taken to heart. It is intended to move you.
Speaking of movement, though, one of the things that might be most striking about this iteration of the band is that there are some truly nice grooves on this album that are thicker and heavier than they’ve executed in the past. The best example of that on this album would be the thump and bump from Beard and drummer, Steve Clifford, that serves as the backbone of “Premonition of the Hex”.
This ability to deftly move; the soul, the body, and the music itself, is what lies at the core of The Amulet. In this outing, Circa Survive prove that they are still vibrant and able to contribute new variations on the style their fans have come to expect. The quality of this record, from beginning to end, stands out for its ability to weave in and out of tight sonic traffic in a way that few bands can achieve. This album is a compelling listen for all of the above reasons and if you’re at all into urgent, vital rock then The Amulet should immediately be added to your collection.
You can get the new album from Circa Survive, the Amulet, from their Bandcamp page here.