Saddle Creek | Old Canes | Reviews


Feral Harmonic

Author: Justin Jacobs
10/20/2009 | My Old Kentucky Blog | | Album Review
The Appleseed Cast is, with substantial consistency, a very powerful and emotionally-leveling band, much as front man Chris Crisci, as it would follow, is, with substantial consistency, a very powerful and emotionally-leveling songwriter.

Alright, so after that massive shitstorm of a sentence, you, reader, are probably in one of two camps: Either you A) disagree to some extent, and hence, because I started the review with such a blunt assessment, will discontinue taking my opinion seriously for the rest of the review, if you do choose to read it at all, or you B) agree to some extent, and are intrigued to see how this ends up being about the new Old Canes record, or (I almost forgot the third) you C) thought that first sentence was verbose bullshit and could give a fuck whether or not the Appleseed Cast or Chris Crisci matter at all, because my writing pissed you off.

Well, all that out on the table as it is, let's continue.

Chris CrisciHaving built a formidable trust with Crisci as a songwriter through time spent listening to Appleseed Cast (especially "The Page" from 2003's Two Conversations, which I believe is the best expression of a struggling writer's frustration I've ever heard), I was understandably hopeful in approaching his side project of sorts, Old Canes. And it was in preparing for an interview with Crisci to discuss his most recent musical collection – Old Canes second record, Feral Harmonic — that I first dove into his non-Appleseed Cast output.

I figured I had to do my research like a good little journalist should, and so I poured over Feral Harmonic. Invested time, read lyrics. And it poured over me—the melodies cocooned in the softest parts of my brain. It was, at one point, almost difficult for me not to listen to the album.

And much of this, an embarrassing amount, to be truthful, was due to four lines in the first song "Little Bird Courage":

"When I am thirsty
You are the fountain
In the face of danger
I am unafraid."

Repeated, the whole phrase, over and over, working into a frenzy. A rusty sounding acoustic guitar scrapes through chords in the background, someone plays trumpet in the corner, at some party where everyone is so drunkhappy and singing they don't even notice someone's bought it out and started blowing. It's a joyous chorale.

Crisci, in the eventual interview, spoke about singing the song to his wife while recording it in his makeshift basement studio. She stood near him, I imagine, and smiled. She wasn't coy, she wasn't bashful; the lines hit her as her husband's most sincere truth, beyond whatever metaphor he was trying to convey with thirst and refreshment; the feeling of the line lay below the words, resting in his voice. And so she smiled and basked in the sound.

While most people who hear this song, and the record that follows it, will not know that little story about its creation, there remains a very detectable and undeniable truth, a lack of pretension, in Crisci's voice.

And it is for this reason, that Crisci's Old Canes is just as good as The Appleseed Cast. Are they similar? Absolutely not. In style, that is. But in that little tinge you feel when music sounds like a good book reads, when it hits you square in the chest, yes, the two are mirrors of each other.

With Old Canes, Crisci has effectively maintained the quality of his music while shrinking he quantity of it drastically. The guitar lines here are acoustic and sparse, and they sound like hell; there's no studio gleam that puts a plastic coat over these crackling, breaking strings. The drums are punished, but not in a disciplined sense; they are merely played with gorgeous disdain; crash symbols live up to their name, a constant bass drum thumps like a heart, low, rumbling.

And Crisci's voice, his words more audible without the fuzz and swampy, damp guitar that lies all over Appleseed Cast songs, is superb. The lo-fi, literally-in-his-basement recording does him more justice than the approach has afforded any singer this year. Crisci sings right in your ear or from across the room; he's looking right at you.

Nowhere is this chaos more laid bare than the last three minutes of "Sweet," in which a particularly low-laying song essentially breaks into dust, like a sand castle held together by wet sand baking in the sun and suddenly crumbling, only to be blown away by a strong wind, circled around in the same spot, stirred about. The guitars play, but there's no melody; the drums trip and fall over themselves. It's noisy, brash. And breathtakingly beautiful.

And somehow, when the wind stops blowing, the sand falls to the ground and the sweet guitar strums of "Under" arise from the ground. We're immediately soothed, as if that sandstorm didn't just fill our eyes with sting and our mouths with that unpleasant crunch.

These same observations could be made about the Appleseed Cast, simply with different metaphors; instead of the scrappy, scratchy sandstorm of Feral Harmonic, an apt Appleseed Cast parallel would be a dark, angrily dark, sky throwing raindrop darts at your face after you got lost in a new city. Say, if you will, that Old Canes is Crisci's summer band, what with the sandcastles and all; dusk on a hot, summer night. Appleseed Cast is the gray-orange sky of October evening just as the cold kicks you, disallowing you to pretend it's still summer. That dark, almost foreboding feeling carries through Crisci in both bands.

Feral Harmonic, which, in other words, is "The Harmony of Escape," seems the perfect title for Old Canes' second record. There's a restlessness in these songs; folk music with an uneasy twitch. With, in most cases, just an acoustic guitar and some spattered drums, Crisci's songs lurch forward, his scratchy voice aiming for the rafters. It's dark stuff, but hopeful. Wipe the sand out of your eyes and keep listening, you might not be able to stop
Feral Harmonic

Feral Harmonic

LP / CD / MP3


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Feral Harmonic

Feral Harmonic

LP / CD / MP3


All »

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