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Caspian, ‘Waking Season’ (Triple Crown)

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Label: Triple Crown

When Caspian formed in 2004, they were bandwagon jumpers, one of many mostly instrumental bands embracing post-rock after Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Rós, and Explosions in the Sky had reinvigorated the genre with atmospheric touches, symphonic arrangements, and epic runtimes. The young Massachusetts crew has never hidden that fact, either, citing the Godspeed-issuing Constellation Records as a favorite label, and Mogwai as a favorite group. What distinguishes these guys from other interlopers, though, is their knack for “sculpting” sound, to borrow a term guitarist Philip Jamieson once used: Caspian painstakingly work out an elaborate succession of noises, fashioning music that truly transcends. The sextet honed its chord-chiseling skills on a 2005 EP and two double-LPs; and now comes Waking Season, on which the band fully comes into its own.

Caspian have publicly declared themselves hellbent on not reconstituting earlier song structures, and while that’s a lofty goal (even for post-rockers), Waking Season indeed sounds fresh. The five-minute opener is one lengthy crescendo, an overture that helps listeners slowly wade into the band’s oceanic orchestrations until the echoing, crashing second track, “Procellous” (a fancy-pants word for “stormy”), officially kicks us off with fuzzy feedback, swirling overtones, and what sounds like someone shooting a cymbal with a cannon. The band then surfs along, the ebbing and flowing instrumentals never repeating themselves (or anyone else) for the next 40 minutes or so.

Along the way, they use glockenspiel, a music box (with a score the band members punched themselves), and the sound of someone smashing a car windshield (captured in the studio, with two mics!), smartly layering all that adornment so as never to detract from any of the songs’ basic melody or integrity. The 10-minute “Gone in Bloom and Bough” arcs and bends, emphasizing a quiet middle section, and downplaying what might be one of the group’s first real vocal lines, buried deep in the mix. On “Halls of the Summer,” programmed, booming industrial drums give way to a house-music-friendly ambient keyboard line, without breaking down or fermenting into an EDM track; instead, the focus shifts to ’60s-style psychedelic flutes. And the album’s most undeniably beautiful moment comes on “Long the Desert Mile,” after a simple, bluesy guitar lick and a plaintive violin line give way to heavenly choral aahhhs and a rolling, symphonic climax.

From beginning to end, Caspian use their structural savoir faire to keep things moving, rarely giving in to passing fancies or individual showmanship. They keep true to this vision throughout the record (a double-LP, as usual): Eight-minute finale “Fire Made Flesh” indulges sizzling static, a few ooohs, and a crescendo that leads to an almost metallic zenith, which itself builds to an even higher peak, even adding a disco beat. Eventually, Waking Season reaches an unnatural conclusion: It all just stops cold and feeds back. Sure, they could fill the gaping void with a few more layers, but why bother? Caspian are in control.