The Amulet reveals a band that shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.
Circa Survive has been one of the most prolific and hard-to-classify bands of the last decade. Over the years, the Philly-based quintet has churned out five records and two EPs featuring a unique progressive indie rock sound forged out of the emo and post-hardcore scene of the mid-‘00s. Their output remains all the more impressive when considering that during that time frontman Anthony Green has also written and produced four solo albums, provided vocals for three experimental Sound of Animals Fighting records, and returned to his original band, Saosin, for their 2016 release Along the Shadow.
Typically, generating music at such a strenuous clip runs the risk of becoming repetitive or burning out. But with their sixth album The Amulet, Circa Survive avoid such pitfalls, putting out their most dynamic record to date. If anything, The Amulet combines the peculiar strains of their discography and pushes them further with a sense of urgency, consistently juxtaposing the frenetic and the calm. It harnesses the grace of On Letting Go, the rocker energy of Blue Sky Noise and the progressive edges of Descensus in a way that feels both familiar and incredibly new. The Amulet possesses the rare quality of being Circa Survive’s most musically ambitious and technical record, while also possessing indie crossover appeal.
Circa Survive’s calling card has always been Green’s textured melodies, and on the The Amulet, he again showcases his vocal versatility. He stretches his harrowing falsetto over the arpeggiated and digitally manipulated guitars of “The Hex” and “At Night It Gets Worse.” He careens a whiny croon over the half-time choruses of opener “Lustration” and “Premonition of the Hex.” And he pitches up his wailing scream on “Never Tell a Soul” and album closer “The Amulet.” Throughout, Green deftly steers his melodies through caverns of majestic grace and rocky precipices of throat-threshing emotion, assembling an affective vocal spectrum of the human experience.
Beyond Green’s vocal dexterity, which is an obvious highlight for any Circa Survive release, is the band’s ability to navigate sonic realms of chaos and control, sometimes superimposing them onto one another. Time and time again, drummer Steve Clifford and bassist Nick Beard undergird Brendan Ekstrom and Colin Frangicetto’s resplendent and reverberating guitars with unexpected and propulsive rhythms. “Tunnel Vision” provides the best example of this juxtaposition. Ekstrom and Frangicetto work up a beautiful cinematic air with their post-rock guitars, only to be met with Clifford’s bounding around-the-kit syncopation.
The band’s galvanic blend of the frantic and refulgent achieves the sought-after effect of making odd time signatures feel normal. For example, although “Premonition of the Hex” begins with reverb-laden guitars in 4/4 sweeps, Clifford and Beard’s thumping jungle-like entry subtly shifts the song into 7/4, before seamlessly falling back into 4/4 for the chorus. Elsewhere, the massive distorted bassline and pounding rhythms of “Rites of Investiture” create a hard-edged groove again in a 7/4 time signature that doesn’t feel odd. Perhaps most impressive is how Clifford jazzes up the sprawling guitar tremelos of “The Hex” with a 5/4 pulse that dies out for the chorus’ incantatory melodies.
While all these employments of odd time signatures attest to the band’s musicianship, the most prog-sounding moment occurs during “Stay.” Grungy lunges of bass and drums stretch underneath a guitar line that wraps wildly into dissonance. During the bridge, the song falls completely into disarray, with Beard’s fingers ambling all over the fretboard of his bass and Frangicetto performing his best Omar Rodriguez-Lopez impression. Despite the cacophony of prog sounds, Green’s echoing vocals produce a haunting grace, officiating a perfect marriage between disorder and harmony. Again, anytime the band risks sounding too technical or abrasive, they are able to rein it in with a sonic beauty.
Altogether, The Amulet reveals a band that shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. On the one hand, those already familiar with Circa Survive will hear this album as a logical and important next step for the band, one that embraces and extends their unique sonic history. Newcomers, on the other hand, should revel in the well-crafted interplay between the human emotion of the vocals and the technicality of the instrumentation, as well as between the chaos and the control that the band demonstrates.