We’ve seen this movie before. Band reaches moderate success on indie label, signs to major, releases major label debut, album gets little to no push, band and major separate mutually. It’s the most predictable cycle of events since every Katherine Heigl movie ever. But the cycle’s most recent addition, Circa Survive, isn’t your typical band. Their major label debut Blue Sky Noise was a killer album – a staggering cornucopia of everything you loved from their first two albums. But let’s be real, Circa Survive is too zealous of a group to be constrained by the limitations of a major (or any) label (but it was admirable that they kicked the tires with the ol’ major try. You know, YOLO and all that garbage). So it made absolute sense when the band announced that they were going to go the DIY route with their fourth album Violent Waves.
In control of its own fate and without any outside label pressure, Violent Waves is Circa Survive at its most ambitious – a record that’s equally intense as it is exquisite. It’s a fusion of the best elements from their first three records, beginning with the psychedelic “Birth of the Economic Hit Man.” If you live and die by Juturna, then this seven-minute track is for you, as Colin Frangicetto and Brendan Ekstrom effects-laden guitar riffs wail throughout the seven minute opener. It’s the perfect setting for Anthony Green’s vocals to soar, as Violent Waves provides the arena for Green’s voice to excel. It transitions into the ferocious “Sharp Practice,” an unforgiving track that has Green exclaiming, “you get what you pay for/we can’t sell our god damn souls anymore.” The track is the first of Violent Waves’ many tempo changes and sonic curveballs; its eleven songs feature everything you love about Circa Survive, only amplified to the highest level.
Being self-produced, Violent Waves has the band indulging in all of its best characteristics. The atmospheric “Suitcase” needles in and out of consciousness, as Green’s vocals flow through in a dream-like state. This track, along with the bluesy straining of “Brother Song,” showcases Circa Survive at its spacey best. Guitar riffs bend and cut throughout, with drummer Steve Clifford providing the backdrop. “Phantasmagoria” is what happens when Circa and Anthony Green’s solo releases cross streams, as its flavorful blend of proggy-folk brings out the best in Green’s voice (the bridge is breathtaking). And the urgent “Bird Sounds” is the best song to never appear on Radiohead’s In Rainbows. The intricate riffing against Green’s raspy delivery is at once calming and exciting.
Green’s otherworldly tenor has mellowed out over the years and albums, but it is still incredibly dynamic. And when you pair it with another distinct voice from the scene as “The Lottery” does with Thursday vocalist Geoff Rickly…well, you get something remarkable. Practicing from the book of in/CASINO/OUT, the stop-and-go approach of the song sets the mood perfectly, creating something that’s equally dark, spazzy, and vibrant. The contrasting styles of the two vocalists create one of the most unforgettable choruses in Circa Survive’s discography.
Even though he’s four albums deep as Circa’s front man, Green still has plenty of past haunts he needs to exorcise. The intimate “Think Of Me When They Sound” has Green at his most vulnerable, insinuating towards a former love finding happiness with someone else (“Church bells/church bells…. How long will you wait for me, dear?”). It’s a musical black hole – its unique and subtle instrumentation will engulf all your senses.
Overall, the music on Violent Waves is exactly what the title implies. It’s the most diverse Circa Survive album and may be one of its most divisive amongst fans. You’re going to need more than a few listens to truly sink your teeth into the meaty layers and themes, but once you get it, you’ll find that this is one of the most rewarding albums of 2012. One thing is for certain however, and that is Circa Survive has never sounded better and in more control of their future. Violent Waves is not only the definitive Circa Survive album, it’s also the beginning of their peak as artists.