The Felix Culpa have been flying under the radar for several years now with their epic procedure towards dynamic, elaborate, progressive and yet melodic post-hardcore. If you coast the narrow pool of opinions cast towards the band during their existence, you're likely to notice it's overwhelmingly gushing. Therefore, you may want to take this review with a grain of salt; not to date myself, but I've always held mixed reservations about the sound the band's laid to tape. And while I can't endorse to an absolute 'T' the band's newest, sprawling endeavor, one can still unequivocally state that this is the Felix Culpa's most realized and compelling effort to date.
Sever Your Roots shows the same breadth of scope and restraint that marked their earlier releases like 2004's Commitment and the following year's Thought Control EP. But every little bit of what the band does is delayed and measured out to finer success and more enriched textures, and what you get as a result is something like opener "New Home Life," where the band's subtle religious underpinnings provide questions of spiritual and literal survival as a lo-fi buildup gives way to a crisp mix of leading, layered guitar lines, sparse, well-integrated keys and breathy vocals with the type of sampled conversational chatter you often hear from more post-rock-leaning bands. Its payoff towards the end, however, doesn't quite hit like one might expect from the well-crafted subtleties and nuances involved in the song's earlier stages.
While that's largely how Sever Your Roots seems to play out, it's still a very rewarding listen cyclically packed with entrancing moments. "Our Holy Ghosts" is fraught with a tenseness--not to mention hook--you don't hear in the record often enough. It's more or less a six-minute climax made all the more special by expert soft/loud instants, captivating multi-tracked--or maybe group--vocals and unexpected dips in volume. The bass tone is pleasingly ugly in a few tracks, namely "The Constant." "Roots" is a folky interlude with a coating of lightly hissing static; the harmonies and soft buildup of its last 40 seconds easily could've been fleshed out to make it one of the album's supreme highlights, though. "Mutiny" provides more acoustic breaks, an embellishment well-warranted and -implemented within Roots' varied platter of instruments and layers, and "What You Call Thought Control" has a string section that complements the song's ending in a cacophonous, almost violent manner.
The band also continues to further shadow just what past acts or genres they're actually influenced by. Sure, the Felix Culpa grew up in the Midwest and were imaginably inspired by the likes of '90s emo bands from that area, a couple post-rock luminaries and maybe a melancholic singer/songwriter or two, but it's really, really hard to pick out just who exactly, and that fact's impressive on its own. Granted, this album compares with certain peers pretty well--flashes of Moving Mountains and O'Brother come to mind. Some say Glassjaw and Emery--if you're thinking in terms of the former's "Ape Dos Mil" verses and Daryl Palumbo's whispered-in-ear timbre and the latter's overall vocal tones, it makes sense (see/hear "Indian Wells"). "Escape to the Mountain" sounds like some of Brand New's peak progressive elements combined: It's got a riff distinctly recalling the opening chords of "Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don't" and intermittent rhythmic percussive stomps similar to "Millstone." Hell, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and call it a coincidence, but the anxiety and arc of melodies of certain vocal bars in "First One to the Scene of an Accident" sound an awful lot like the climax of Kevin Devine's "Cotton Crush," which Jesse Lacey even guests on.
All that being said, this is a fresh and original album held back only by not quite fulfilling its limitless potential due to the exhaustingly jagged structures and gaps in its crescendos, as well as its rather long, languid length. At a nearly 67-minute running time, one senses Sever Your Roots could stand to sever several minutes without squandering a single one of its intense intentions. That's not to say every band in existence should pay heed to conciseness (Daisy proved a certain aforementioned was better off without it), but the Felix Culpa could find different and greater strengths in more vicious editing; four-minute closer "Apologies" proves this.
Regardless--Sever Your Roots is a challenging and intriguing experience that's well-done enough to warrant some attention.
Our Holy Ghosts
Because This Is How We Speak
Youth Conspiracy Records handled the vinyl release for this album.