After a nearly yearlong road respite, indie-rock darlings The Appleseed Cast have readied a return punctuated by a new direction, album and rhythm section.
Today's 9 p.m. show at Norman's Opolis is the first on Appleseed's spring tour. Singer/guitarist Christopher Crisci said half of tonight's 14-song set is comprised of material from the band's upcoming "Sagarmatha" " its first disc in nearly three years.
Set for a Feb. 17 release, the album is cascading and environmental " a sonic landscape of shimmering guitars, echoic drums, cymbal crashes and murmuring bass. Delicate electronics, deliberate drums, controlled feedback and bells sweep through new songs like "The Road West," a lyric-less songscape. Album opener "As the Little Things Go" slowly builds from meandering sonic swirls to reveal rippling layers of guitars, which give way to distorted string dives and sorrowful, effected vocals.
Like all Appleseed releases, a lot of thought went into "Sagarmatha," the group's first release since 2006's "Peregrine." Planning and writing turned into summer recording sessions at home and with engineers at Mixtape Soundlab and Black Lodge " venerable studios located around the band's hometown of Lawrence, Kan.
Two Cast members " bassist Marc Young and drummer Aaron Coker " left the band midway through "Sagarmatha" sessions, Crisci said.
"We brought the recordings home from Mixtape and we didn't like the direction things were going," he said. "We made a ton of changes. By the time the Black Lodge session came, there was no way (drummer) Aaron was going to be able to get the new parts down in time."
Appleseed has long been moving to more purely instrumental tracks, Crisci said, especially with the upcoming album. He said that Coker seemed resistant to the direction of the new album " a situation made more stressful by a looming recording deadline.
In the end, Coker and Young left " on good terms, Crisci is quick to point out " and the singer and guitarist Aaron Pillar were joined by new members Nate Whitman and John Momberg.
Crisci bristles, then laughs when he recalls Appleseed's history of frequent member swaps, but notes "everyone generally remains good friends and they always go on to do great things."
"Sometimes I'm jealous," Crisci said. "The best thing you can do is quit this band."
"Sagarmatha" was intended to be an entirely instrumental four-song EP, he said " an idea the band had planned for 2001's "Low Level Owl, Vol. 1" and "Low Level Owl, Vol. 2." Vocals found a way onto all three records, and EP plans were scrapped for "Sagarmatha" once the band started writing in earnest.
Writing songs for the album was a challenge, Crisci said, pointing out that even the band members themselves had a hard time "accepting" some of the musical ideas they wanted to explore on the new record. The group decisively worked to move away from the brooding, dark instrumental style that populates many previous Appleseed albums " a familiar and comfortable rut the act found itself in halfway through recording "Sagarmatha."
"The songs were too close to that," Crisci said. "Too close for comfort. Too familiar for our own sound. We needed some kind of progression, or something. A new idea." "Joe Wertz