Release Date: Apr 23, 2013
Record label: Graveface Records
Genre(s): Emo, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
The Appleseed Cast settled into their role so long ago that the narrative regarding their transition from emo to nearly full-on post-rock seems like a dull and dated one by this point. But it warrants a brief mention, because Illumination Ritual splits the difference, retracing the soft melodic power of their pre-Low Level Owl 2 era with plenty of the more atmospheric builds and jams prevalent on their catalog in more recent years. It could also be their straight-up best album in a decade.
As a critic, I face a couple of dilemmas in reviewing the new album from Lawrence, Kansas-based band the Appleseed Cast. The first is a matter of pigeonholing. The group has been called everything from alternative rock to emo to post rock as the group has challenged the boundaries of genre with each successive release, so it’s hard to really define the sound of the band to one specific genre, and this is especially so on their latest record, Illumination Ritual.
Kansas-based post-rock unit the Appleseed Cast grew from their earliest emo days in the late '90s to develop into a tightly wound machine of atmosphere and dynamics, while still holding on to hints of their punky emo roots. For many listeners the band's high-water mark would be its epic 2001 effort, Low Level Owl, a declarative shift from vague yearning and frailty to moody compositional rock that drew influence from pioneering electronic producers, Brit-pop, and Radiohead's most cerebral phases. Some years later and after countless lineup changes, the band returns with its seventh full-length, Illumination Ritual, a warm and well-rounded set of songs that reaches the heights of unfettered creativity achieved on Low Level Owl but also shows the type of metered restraint that speaks of a band entering its 14th year of existence.
The Appleseed Cast were tagged as an emo band in their earliest days and that's likely to stick in 2013. It says as much about the elasticity of the genre as it does about how Chris Crisci's mercurial band hasn't allowed anything else to define them since. Over the past decade and a half, they haven't made two consecutive recordings without shuffling their lineup, their sonic focus, and often both: In the late 90s, the Lawrence, Kansas, band were peers of Mineral and Planes Mistaken For Stars, earnest Midwesterners expanding on the template set by Sunny Day Real Estate.
Enigmatic Lawrence, KS rockers The Appleseed Cast are one of the few emo bands that grew into something more by pushing their music into new arenas — their music matured as they did. Now with a more post-rock lean, The Appleseed Cast have been forging songs out of complex guitar riffs, technical drum work, and atmospheric effects. Their newest album, Illumination Ritual, fully embraces that grandiosity.
The Appleseed Cast of 2013 are not who they were in 1998, when the Lawrence, Kansas, outfit released their debut album, The End Of The Ring Wars. Of the original lineup, only frontman Chris Crisci remains, making them a very different band today. But then, they’ve always been a different, their sound shifting over the years almost as much as their lineup, switching between (and mixing up) the heavier sounds of old-school emo with ethereal post-rock instrumentation, as well as everything in between.