A few weeks ago I was on The Appleseed Cast's message board. I decided to field a question to lead singer Christopher Crisci. I asked Chris whether or not the band has ever been approached by any major labels. He said that such a thing has never happened, and that the band would probably never move into that territory. I can't see them becoming a popular band, as I don't see them as being very marketable to a large audience, but I found it surprising that the majors haven't taken an interest towards this Lawrence, Kansas four piece, who, in 2001, released the groundbreaking Low Level Owl series. Scenesters and critics in the indie scene were collectively awe-struck at the progression, intelligence, and skill that the epic two disc set contained. I was one of those awe-struck individuals.
The Appleseed Cast released their first record, The End Of The Ring Wars, in the Summer of 1998 on Deep Elm Records. It was a solid debut that tinkered around with the Mid-West "emo" sound and factored in a few other influences. In 2000, the band issued Mare Vitalis, which expanded on the potential of the band's debut. Mare hinted that the band's next record would be treading in far different waters. Indeed it was. Issued in 2001, Low Level Owl fulfilled the promise of the band's first two records and sent them skyrocketing into waters filled with lush instrumentals, top notch production, beautiful epics such as "On Reflection," and "Steps And Numbers," and gorgeous transitions and experiments, which gained them comparisons to such musical gods as My Bloody Valentine & Radiohead.
Those who followed the band wondered how they would follow such an album. In late 2002, Deep Elm issued their final release with the band, Lost Songs, a collection of songs mostly recorded in 1999, which helped the move from Mare to LLO be a bit more understandable. Considering that Lost Songs was a collection of nine lo-fi left-overs, it was quite impressive. This release definitely helped tide hardcore fans over until the release of the next full length. In early 2003, it was announced that the band was leaving Deep Elm for Tigerstyle (another indie), and that a new full length would be out in the Summer. There was a big question though. Would the band shed their roots once again and expand on LLO, or would they take the experimental values of that album and fuse them with their earlier albums.
Released earlier this month, and leaked online in June, Two Conversations is here to answer that question. It adds another interesting chapter into the band's already diverse career. It takes the dreamy atmosphere of the previous album, and fuses it, both lyrically and musically, into a more accessible sound, which often dives into a more rocking sound than its predecessor, and references their early influences and sound. Does this formula succeed or fail?
Before I go any further, I'd like to be honest with you. I love everything this band has done, but I am one of those people who was hoping that this record would be an expansion of LLO. Two Conversations doesn't honor that wish. I wasn't expecting them to duplicate that album, but I just wanted them to expand in that experimental direction. In my opinion, this record mostly feels like a retrospective of the band's entire career thus far. There is a little of everything. And while it doesn't even come remotely close to dethroning LLO, it is still a solid album.
Two Conversations is a concept album. The first conversation (Songs 1 - 5) revolves around the end of a relationship, while the second conversation (Songs 6 - 10) describes a meaningful and salvaged friendship. That doesn't exactly sound very interesting to me, so I decided to completely ignore the concept, and just listen to the music for what it is. We begin with "Hello Dearest Love," a solid opener that begins with a dreamy piano intro, which is eventually interrupted by a loud drum beat that transitions into the bulk of the song.
One of the first things I noticed is that Christopher Crisci's voice, and the band in general, sound more polished than they ever have before. As many other reviewers and fans have noticed, Crisci's amazing voice sounds far more prominent than on past releases. The lyrics are far more simple as well, which I feel really hurts the album. Musically, each song is very dreamy (I hate using this adjective, but it's the only thing I can think of. Whenever I use it, I feel like I'm some sort of sexually frustrated high school cheerleader), and much of the album contains the poppiest material the Cast has released to date. Keyboard usage is high on this album, and the electronic strings definitely add to the feel of the record.
As part one of the album moves along, we come to track five, "Fight Song," which is clearly the highlight of the entire album. Not only is it the best song here, it is also one of the best things the band has ever done. Unlike some portions of the album, it is lyrically strong, and Crisci's vocals are breathtaking. When Chris starts yelling, "Take your troubles solo," you'll be beside yourself.
"Fight Song" moves into "Sinking," which would seem quite boring if it wasn't for the awesome reverb/feedback outro. Track seven, "The Page" is another one of the highlights of the album. It's just Crisci and an acoustic. It has a really good sound to it. "Innocent Vigiliant Ordinary" is another really catchy song, but it doesn't hit me hard, much like most of the first half of the album. The two tracks that close out the album, "How Life Can Turn" and "A Dream For Us" are flat out beautiful and end the journey in good fashion.
Two Conversations will satisfy or disappoint some, but others, like me, will be left with a mixed taste in their mouths. This is an album that features some extremely good songs, and some tracks that just fall together, and don't strike me as being very memorable in the end. Also, most of the songs are very short. I feel that some of these tracks could have been expanded upon. Two Conversations isn't a bad record. It's not even the worst thing that band has released. And yes, it will probably make my top ten list in December, despite my complaints. Considering the challenge the band was faced with in following up LLO, it is a solid follow up in many ways. Trust me, their have been far worse follow ups to classic records (Weezer's follow up to Pinkerton comes to mind). You get my point.
The Appleseed Cast is a very important band in my eyes. As a whole, they are criminally under-rated. In my opinion, they are extremely vital to music in general. This is a great introduction to the band though, and it is worth purchasing. If only a mainstream audience could appreciate a group as talented as these guys. While this album was a side-step, I have a feeling that these guys still have quite a few tricks left up their sleeves. Let's hope a few more of those tricks fall out of the bag next time.