Circa Survive, 'Violent Waves'

The band's latest release takes us back to what emo used to be.

The first time I saw Circa Survive, Anthony Green was standing on stage with the microphone in his hand, waving it toward the crowd like a sorcerer would coerce a king cobra out of a basket.

The image alone is enough to make one wonder what the heck was going on in the first place.

With a lineup spearheaded by Green—the seemingly basket-case lead vocalist, and one of the few with a register high enough to label a “croon”—and guitarist Colin Frangicetto, Circa Survive’s music has always operated on the inside—much like a sorcerer would—always seeming to point to the hushed disorders living and breathing within the womb of humanity’s existence.

Those are big words for such a small band from Philadelphia, a band that separated from Atlantic Records on their latest album to do things themselves. But writing music about the fantastic inner dealings of a person’s soul (or lack thereof) is something Circa Survive has always been good at, with or without a label. The band has focused on the darkness of what goes on inside of us, and that's largely the reason why it continues to succeed.

That being said, it shouldn’t surprise us that their latest record, Violent Waves, opens with a notion—better yet, a challenge—that despite everything we’ve learned, nothing is sacred.

Sober vocals call upon the things that are best spoken over coffee, not spilled over a dozen bottles of alcohol.
Much like that assertion, the majority of Violent Waves is not an easy listen. Tracks like “Birth of the Economic Hit Man” and “Suitcase” deal in tones that roll back to the early days of emo—think Sunny Day Real Estate via the Rising Tide era. This isn't your modern version of emo, like the “pop-rock-band-hailing-from-Virginia-featuring-guest-vocals-from-Patrick-Stump” type band, but true emo, the kind that beats within your soul and upon the Persian rugs of your second-story tenement—music that seems better under a gray sky or in the waning daylight of late October. The guitars wash over you like an expectant set of waves, and sober vocals call upon the things that are best spoken over coffee, not spilled over a dozen bottles of alcohol (“Bird Sounds,” “I’ll Find a Way”).

What you’re left with is an album that feels much more like a lament, especially on tracks like “Think of Me When They Sound” and “Brother Song,” both of which wind up on the richer side of the spectrum, with the latter moving along on a slow, bluesy rhythm and the former seemingly wrapped around the image of church bells—imagery that mingles mysteriously with the idea that Green subtly slips under your doormat on the first track.

Sonically speaking, Green’s vocals aren’t the focal point anymore. At times they flow in and out, reaching to the ceiling and the basement as necessary, which perhaps adds to the fact that Violent Waves isn’t as aggressive as previous releases and almost feels soft around the edges, falling into its own trap of speed and timbre. Perhaps this is why some songs sound familiar: because of the band’s increasingly burgeoning catalog, many tracks wind up as memorable as titles on an iPod screen (“Blood From a Stone,” “My Only Friend").

Because of the band’s increasingly burgeoning catalog, many tracks wind up as memorable as titles on an iPod screen.
It’s not as if the band can’t write killer rock songs like “Get Out” and “In the Morning and Amazing ...” anymore. Rather, it’s as if the warehouse is empyting and these songs are the leftovers, with the faster, stand-out tracks being the shredding “Sharp Practice” and “The Lottery,” both of which overrun with the seedy and weird energy the band tapped into on “Holding Someone’s Hair Back,” the opening track of their debut, Juturna.

Ironically, the weird thing about Violent Waves is that it isn’t violent at all, at least in the traditional sense. It’s a good record, but it leaves you with more of an ambiguous malaise than hitting you like a splash of ice water to the face (read the lyrics to “In Fear and Faith” from Juturna). But then again, before emo became Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance, the genre brought to light the inner dealings of the soul through melancholy, and anyone knows that nights of soul-wrestling can be the most violent.

Circa Survive hearkens back to the age of realizing pain and death, living in the odd space of spirituality and the givings and misgivings of an ordained life, and many times questions its very existence. But if there has been one clear message throughout the band’s career, it’s punctuated by Violent Waves: Nothing is sacred—maybe.

1 Comment

Kevin Hernandez


Kevin Hernandez reviewed…

such a great review for this band, to see the progression in their music as the music becomes more intentional from vocals to theambient melodies but still be harsh. i like that. progress is good.

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