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June 15, 2009

Appleseed CastSagarmatha (Militia Group/Vagrant)

The latest Appleseed Cast record, their eighth, is put together with a renewed inspiration that seemed lacking on their last release. Nearly everything written about the album states that it’s the best thing they’ve done in years, which isn’t really debateable, but that should be read as a statement of this record’s quality, not that they’ve been making bad records for years.

2006’s Peregrine, the anticipated record they re-emerged with after a three-year break, should have been an excellent album. And it has its moments (particularly the opening track), but many of the songs just end up sounding flat and are muddled by distracting dynamics and production touches. It’s one of those records that comes into mind every so often, as though you feel you should listen to it again just to see if you’re missing something. No matter how many listens though, it just doesn’t have that surge that makes The Appleseed Cast’s best work so affecting. Many are quick to make similar comments about 2003’s Two Conversations, whence comes all the “this new album is the best thing they’ve done in years” talk. It has to be said, however, that even though Two Conversations is a bit more direct musically and lyrically than the works that preceded it, it is by no means bad or out-of-character in comparison to the group’s other works. The Appleseed Cast changed between 2003 and 2006, however  (lineup changes, hiatus, new label and producer), and the resulting record showed them working at a new musical identity which, ultimately, is better realised on this latest release.

The return to form on Sagarmatha is evident from the outset. The melodies drift and echo beautifully along and, as many critics have pointed out, hearken back to the group’s work in the early 2000’s (likely a result of the band’s old producer returning). When dealing with The Appleseed Cast it must be kept in mind that they have always been an album band. They have a way of tying albums together conceptually that is never too obvious or forced, and their records are usually quite cohesive. Sagarmatha is another good example of this. It  finds its paths by reigning in and better implementing the experimenting that cluttered Peregrine up, while also looking back to the band’s older work to get its bearings. One of the things that everyone’s commented on is how sparse the vocals are. This is a largely instrumental album, and that seems to have freed the band up a bit, giving them plenty of space to do their thing, resulting in an excellent new record that incorporates a bit of everything they’ve done up to this point.

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