A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Massachussett instrumental rock quintet Caspian return with a wild, windswept meditation on vastness and our place in it, on Dust And Disquiet.
Whether ocean or desert, tundra or the depths of space, there is a feeling that comes from contemplating the nearly infinite. Gazing out at the landscape, a person contemplates their place in things. If they stay there long enough, still enough, they become just another point on the landscape, receding into insignificance, fading away. Instead of being a lamentation, mourning one’s self, instead one begins to imagine the landscape without you in it. Perhaps how it was 10,000 years ago, or how it will be in 2,500 years time.
It invites reflection, and a deep feeling of potential and wild adventure, if you let it.
Caspian’s music, nearly all instrumental as ever, is like watching weather patterns emerge and unfold, with heavy banks of distorted guitar coming on like a tsunami wave, while powerful punishing drums cut the scene like granite cliffs. It’s the sound of gazing, unflinching, into the future.
I always got the feeling, with the genre formerly known as post-rock, that this music was speaking for a generation., or for a particular segment of it anyway. Young earnest young men and women, perhaps dredded, perhaps not. Perhaps vegan, perhaps carnivorous. It’s the soundtrack of a certain kind of bookish sort who cares a lot about the world, but does not necessarily go monkeywrenching or pipe bombing.
Instead, the intensity goes inward, and becomes a kind of internal fantastic war epic. Battles are clashed, sometimes good falls and does not get up. It’s the kind of music that makes you want to write combative poetry.
And while, back in 2002, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and A Silver Mt. Zion were dancing in the ashes and throwing parades and writing romantic poetry on ruin, in 2015, Caspian are trying to sort out the pieces and put it back together again with Dust And Disquiet.
Perhaps more than any other genre, post-rock succumbed to its own genre limitations. Understandably, everyone with electric guitars was excited when they heard Mogwai’s Young Team and Godspeed You!’s F# A# Infinity. Here was music aspiring to classical heights, using all kinds of unconventional un-Pop song structures and non-Rock instrumentation. Here was a way for rock ‘n roll to remain vital, rather than devolving into a nostalgia industry.
Except too many bands began to copy the cinematic climactic crescendo build verbatim. It became a cliche, a caricature of earnest young men. And people stopped taking it seriously, as a musical movement, and ultimately stopped paying attention. People could just say, “Oh, that’s another post-rock record. I know what that is.”
This is one of the most serious shortcomings of any attempt to talk about art of any kind. It’s like saying, “Oh, this is a forest. I know what a forest is,” instead of going to scope the trees. That’d be like saying Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 14 is a romantic solo piano work in the sonata form, perhaps going so far as to note it was composed in the key of C# minor, rather than notating how the music sounds like moonlight rippling on the surface of Lake Lucerne. It’s every music journalist’s, and listener’s, job to get inside of the work, to let it take you over, let it inhabit you.
It’s like a willful seance, a vodoun, ridden like a horse, being overtaken by visions.
If people were to take the time to listen, they’d notice that Caspian have a unique, opiate lush twin guitar attack, with one being distorted to infinity, giant fogbanks of crushing waves of leaden power chords, while the other darts and ripples like a winnow in a glistening melodic lead.
Then perhaps you’d notice that the bass punches like a velvet-wrapped piston and glistens like oil, sounding halfway between Tool and The Cure, in the best possible way.
And it’s impossible NOT to notice that the drums hit like the wrath of g_d, falling from heaven like Babel as the drummer subdivides a steady whirlwind beat, equal parts metronomic and ritualistic.
2/3’s of the way through opening track Separation No. 2, it’s clear you’ve got a stone classic on yr hands, and yr in for a trip. The band bolster their instrumentation even further with blurry sax, with a full-blown string quartet sawing away yr heartstrings in a mighty Americana meltdown. There’s even a slide guitar.
It seems like there’s new elements coming in every song, on Dust And Disquiet. Caspian are pushing themselves, trying new things. A good majority of the album is made of the gradually building epic fury post-rock/post-metal is best known for. Each song is like its own marble universe, and is best heard rather than described. “Rioseco”, however, is a particular knockout, at a respectable 7:55. Clean crystalline guitars hang over like watchful angels, while powerful drums keep it driving at a mid-tempo ballad pace. Aforementioned cello and strings re-emerge, sighing mournfully, soaring like geese overhead, fleeing for the winter. There’s even a bit of oscillator tunage, and more pedal steel. It’s like the mightiest instrumental metal space Western ballad you’d ever want; music for dunebuggying across Jupiter.
It builds and builds, to an unbearable climax, that will have yr eyes rolling up in yr head, with guitars freaking out like classic David Gilmour, drums driving you into the dust.
Part of what makes me love Dust And Disquiet so much is it reminds me of certain lesser known and underappreciated post-rock bands, like June Of 44 side project Shipping News, or Modest Mouse offshoot Red Stars Theory. At the same time, it also reminds me of my most favorite post-metal acts – particularly Pelican, Red Sparrowes, Neurosis/Tribes Of Neurot, Nadja. The guitars have that same fuzzed out immense quality, heavier than dark matter, that i can never tire of. And with the post-rock bands, i always felt like they had such great tone. The bass and drums just sound so fucking fantastic.
So you’ve got a bunch of really technically talented musicians, with sick tone and seemingly endless musical ideas, experimenting with various structures and styles. There’s even a slow country ballad, by way of “Run Dry”.
Personally, i want to see this kind of music come on again. I want to hear rock bands bringing in sounds, instruments, styles, from all over the world. I want punk bands playing African rhythms, and i want DJs spinning wax cylinders. I want to push the envelope, and make everything sound great.
But more than all of that, Caspian have told a story. They have taken us somewhere, and opened up worlds inside of us. Put this music on yr headphones, put it in yr car. Go for a drive. Go stare out at the horizon and let it take over you.