Caspian’s Dust and Disquiet releases Friday. At the time of writing, you can stream the whole album via the New York Times here. Or you can just take my word for it and buy it for yourself now (iTunes/Amazon/band), and listen as you read through this track-by-track review.
1. Separation No. 2 (3:09)
The album fades in with a gorgeous opening track. Is that a saxophone? I wondered on my first few listens through. Then felt embarrassed to learn my brass knowledge is not what it should be. It’s Jon Green on the trumpet. With effects. On top of a lovely guitar. Beverly, Mass. never knew so sweet a sound.
After the three tracks Caspian previewed to introduce the album’s release, I was not expecting the soft, gentle sound of “Separation No. 2.” The lush tones, layers, guitar swells… everything is in sync. It’s one of the more evocative album intros I can remember hearing. Strings, brass, acoustic and electric guitars… YES.
The track is a mere 3:09, so leaves something to be desired. But you realize it’s the first of a pair, really. It’s the call to the response of the second track.
2. Ríoseco (7:52)
I could listen to this Caspian all day. The drums finally enter the record, about half a minute in. One wonders, too, if the bass’s album entrance only at 1:01 is deliberate–a sort of silence to honor the life and now absence of late bassist Chris Friedrich. (Also, now that you’re thinking about that, look again at the album cover.)
By 1:51 everyone is in and in lockstep. Guitars, bass, drums, effects strings–you get the feeling the band is just doing their thing for themselves, and you’re lucky enough to get to listen in.
“Ríoseco” is a really moving track. This is post-rock (or whatever) at its best… with pedal steel. No, it’s not country; it’s just awesome. I hope the band will be complimented and not bothered by the comparison with this track to (the best of) early-2000-era Mogwai.
3. Arcs of Command (8:49)
Caspian, you know, has a propensity to pull in ex-emo kids like me with the interlocking, layered, warm guitar parts, and then double their volume and quadruple the distortion. “Arcs of Command” begins more aggressively. Now that Caspian has got you all teary-eyed, they’re ready to rock those tears right off your face.
And dang it if they’re not going to do it in 5/4 time! Until they decide, that is, to turn the track into a blistering waltz. And that’s not the last time in the song they’ll change time signatures.
Especially after the first two tracks, the listener may well ask: What is this, a metal record? Caspian asks a lot of their listeners in this song, most of whom will be thrilled to oblige.
4. Echo and Abyss (5:45)
Where can you go after the heavy “Arcs of Command”? To another heavy song, of course, the build-up in which barely takes any time at all.
The (heavily processed) vocals cry out, as from an abyss, “Speak to me! Speak to me!”
5. Run Dry (4:36)
“Run Dry” is the albums “Whaaa…?” moment. The acoustic guitar with clearly audible vocals (“We are wide awake now….”) evoke Bruce Cockburn more than anything in Caspian’s back catalog.
Have we heard Calvin Joss sing before? After hearing him partway through Dust and Disquiet, we who love this instrumental band might still want more of his vocals in future records and/or side projects.
6. Equal Night (1:57)
A short two minutes serve as a sort of coda to the previous track. “Equal Night” brings the first part of the album (at least as I interpret it) to a close and prepares the listener for the second half.
7. Sad Heart of Mine (4:27)
The opening arpeggios call to mind the start of the record. If this were a cassette tape, it would be the perfect first track to Side B. This time, though, there’s a bit more of a joyful feel, or at least a post-catharsis mood, having worked through the first six tracks.
All of which is (deliberately?) ironic, given the track’s title.
8. Darkfield (6:36)
Don’t get me wrong–this is a fine song, and Caspian rarely if ever puts out what fans would consider a dud, but I found this track to be not as remarkable as the others. I was actually relieved for a bit of a break, in that sense, because there are still 13 minutes to go.
Take my assessment with a grain of salt, though–I’m a sucker for their quieter stuff. If you like the heavier, industrial sounds Caspian sometimes reaches for, you’ll likely love the track.
9. Aeternum Vale (2:08)
Another interlude, this one featuring some nylon-string guitar. It’s good in its own right, but seems needful preparation for the album’s long and (you guessed it) epic closing track.
10. Dust and Disquiet (11:26)
The album’s title track is classic Caspian. There are lots of dynamic shifts, builds, swells, memorable melodies, grooves, and tremolo picking. Lesser bands might give up on such a song and split it into multiple tracks. Not these guys.
And, no, 11 minutes is not too long for this track. It’s the exact length it needs to be to do what Caspian wants it to do.
The riff they finally end on will stay in your mind (and maybe even your heart, dare I say) long after the album ends.
* * * * * * *
The fall is here, and you need good music in your life. I’m grateful to Caspian for making such a thoughtful, emotive, meaningful, and well-executed album. I’ve already listened to it a dozen times, and even introduced my seven-year-old and five-year-old to it. (They’re fans now.) I will listen many more times to this record.
Thanks to the good folks of Stunt Company for the album download for review. And many thanks to Caspian for making this record!