Artist: Circulatory System
Label: Cloud Recordings
Due Out: September 8th
Well, it sure has been awhile, hasn't it? Eight years removed from their last record, one of the Elephant Six Collective's most prominent acts returns to the music scene as if they've never left. Circulatory System, for those not acquainted already, is the remnants of The Olivia Tremor Control, making the same type of music, under the direction of Will Cullen Hart. When I heard about Signal Morning, I was intrigued. What would it sound like? Was everyone back? Would we see a return appearance from Jeff Mangum? Is eight years far too long? The answers: similar, almost, no and once again, no.
"Woodpecker Greeting Worker Ant" is as welcome an introduction as any, seemingly picking up exactly where the band left off, but of course, reinforced with some positive growth. As much as Signal Morning continues to lean on lo-fi psychadelia, these tracks are definitely more produced than in the past, with emphasis on bass and electronics adding to their original sound. Next, "Rocks and Stones" gives us the best view ever conceived of what Kid A would have been like if recorded on acid. Containing the album's first lyrical contributions, it creeps along, immersed in the surprisingly effective electronic experimentation. One can't help but wonder, with an effort like this, what could have been if Elephant Six had come around now, rather than the 1990s. Their experimental and free approach towards recording would be a welcome addition to today's scene, and perhaps would be guiding the indie rock genre today. "This Morning (We Remembered Everything)" further captures this spirit with a festival-type approach complete with the group vocals fans have become so accustomed to. Same goes for "Tiny Concerts," a dead ringer for The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," and a disjointed, random jaunt into the auxiliary percussion section.
As is the case with any Collective-oriented release, you'll find several short instrumental interludes here, one of which is "Pelican Trust," a short and concise microcosm of the sounds experienced thus far. It leads us into first single, "Overjoyed," which varies from slow instrumental to frantic psychadelic march to metal refrain. Though it may not be the album's best, it does do a fair job of summing up the overall cluster of sounds and influences you're sure to experience on the effort. Exiting it, we enter "The Breathing Universe," a relaxed and spacious acoustic number that seemingly floats in mid air, followed minute ukulele number, "News From the Heavenly Loom." Without warning, the album shifts towards a mainstream rock sound with "The Spinning Continous." Once again, Beatles similarities are uncanny here, but feature even more experimentation than can be found on Magical Mystery Tour. If this had been made the single, you could almost guarantee superstardom for the band, but not surprisingly, they don't operate that way.
Calming down, the album proceeds to side 2, and "I You We," which functions as a brief and mellow introduction to the second half of the album. Next, "Blasting Through" gives us what ends up being the best glimpse into the band's old work. For the first minute or so, it's as if you're listening to "The Lovely Universe" part two, before more shifts into Led Zeppelin-esque refrains mixed with euro-pop (an odd, yet cohesive partnership to say the least). "Solid Forms Dissolving" provides the album with one ballad (questionably), a woodwind-littered stroll, then romp that may or may not dole out some sentimental value. In the same vein, "Gold Will Stay" is somewhat of a lullaby, quietly pecking along with the help of subtle horns and a xylophone, as well as the later, muffled guitar part which guides the second half.
In a complete 180-degree turn, "The Frozen Lake/The Symmetry" brings the album's electronic elements roaring back with a high-pitched and segmented furor. The song actually comes off as more of a march than anything, but a triumphant one at that. "Until Moon Medium Hears the Message" then reverses us right back, bobbing about as a pop-orchestra piece which hints at psychadelia. Obviously, by this point, the end is near. If you weren't convinced, "(Drifts)" should seal it, as it, appropriately drifts off into a dreamlike state, transitioning us into the finale, the title track, "Signal Morning." It's a subdued, yet joyous pop number that sends us off on the right foot. Rather than the experimentation we saw earlier, it's one of the more straightforward songs on the record, and comes off as celebratory, if nothing else.
Is this the beginning of an renaissance for the Elephant Six Collective? Unlikely. However, it is nice to see them back, as evidenced by this and last year's tour dates. As influential as they have been to so many acts of today's music scene, I still feel as if many of Elephant Six's acts could do so much towards orchestral experimentation and the reintroduction of good psychadelia. Circulatory System goes above and beyond the call of duty in this regard by both re-establishing their sound for all, as well as adapting it to the ever-changing, and more-demanding music scene of today. Hopefully, this isn't just the start of another eight year layoff. Similarities include The Olivia Tremor Control, Woods and The Mamas & the Papas.