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Emotional exuberance from the Heartland

Kansas four-piece bangs out its staple brand of lavish instrument-thick rock, mashing airy guitar and samples with singer Chris Crisci’s alluring, often off-kilter vocal smatterings
/ Source: contributor

After the release of The Appleseed Cast’s fifth studio record, the toils of a nearly decade-old band took over. The group’s record label went out of business, and personal issues forced a year hiatus in which the band rarely spoke. But most of all, there was talk of a breakup. Now, three years, a lineup change and a new record label later, The Appleseed Cast returns with “Peregrine,” a rise-from-the-ashes collection of indie instrumental gems.

Its most ambitious to date, on “Peregrine” the Kansas four-piece bangs out its staple brand of lavish instrument-thick rock, mashing airy guitar and samples with singer Chris Crisci’s alluring, often off-kilter vocal smatterings. Beat master Nathan “Jr.” Richardson picks up where former drummer Josh Baruth left off, pinging and panging in the band’s high-hat heavy style, while Aaron Pillar and Marc Young knock out The Appleseed Cast’s characteristic swell.

From Crisci’s passion on the mic, to Pillar’s slippery finger picking, “Peregrine” is a mix-and-match combination of the band’s lengthy repertoire.  On “February,” Crisci spits emotional verses reminiscent of the group’s debut disc, “End of the Ring Wars,” while guitar themes on the CD’s final track are the spitting image of earlier works. But on “Peregrine” there’s plenty of new material to enjoy. The Appleseed Cast’s fluid style lends itself nicely to a few carefully placed samples, and Crisci seems to have finally negotiated a balance between his voice and the surrounding score.

Recorded under the direction of production wizard John Congleton (Explosions in the Sky, The Roots, Modest Mouse), a majority of “Peregrine” was stitched-together live, creating a tangible energy that transcends each song on the album. Observing the motto, “simplicity is complexity,” The Appleseed Cast crew is careful not to overextend itself, pushing forward well-conceived songwriting in place of superficial tricks.

In typical fashion, The Appleseed Cast expands on this philosophy with the disc’s start-up track, “Ceremony,” highlighting a few strums from a single guitar before breaking in with the group’s full fury. Not unlike The Album Leaf or Independent Study rockers Always the Runner, the boys of The Appleseed Cast aren’t hit makers. They focus instead on making intelligent, evocative music, knowing that the fans, crowds and gold-records will follow.

On the band’s first single, “Here We Are (Family in the Hallways),” The Appleseed Cast breaks in distorted riffs over Crisci’s somber vocals. Like a kite catching the wind, Crisci’s unique voice falters momentarily before taking flight in the song’s raucous finale:

“Everyone walks alone/we don’t care here we are/we proclaim the start up/with false fronts and shattered dreams/we don’t care all we are/all we are is watching.”

A wisp of gentle guitar slows the heartbeat on “Silas’ Knife,” while accordions and tribal shakers smooth the song’s rough edges in preparation for Crisci’s exulted chorus line: “Coming around/life takes its place/falling and crawling under/brother of mine/come out from your cage/you can not be defeated.”

In quick transition, The Appleseed Cast quickens the pace on “Mountain Halo,” before flowing into “Sunlit Ascending,” the CD’s best track. Fluttery guitar, and a dose of keys push the song to new heights musically, and Crisci offers lyrics that play in perfectly with the bold instrumental backdrop. On the track, The Appleseed Cast observes ebb-and-flow tactics, battling Pillar’s delicate finger-picking and Crisci’s soaring voice against bouts of loud and quiet before breaking down in a splatter of combative harmonies.

At just under an hour, “Peregrine” is a career-defining piece of work.  Partly a result of Richardson’s addition on the drums, through songs like “Mountain Halo,” and “A Fate Delivered,” the band exhibits a new grittier exterior. There are no fluffy epics or gaudy instrumental annals on “Peregrine,” but The Appleseed Cast’s exuberance for creating beautiful, emotional music remains intact.

“It was really just natural,” Crisci says of the group’s return. “When we were ready, we just picked it up with a new found energy.”

A stunning piece of work, in “Peregrine,” the band reemerges, fresh faced and new. After nearly 10 years of searching, The Appleseed Cast has found itself.

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