“Peregrine” — definitions include foreign, alien and migratory — is an apposite title for The Appleseed Cast’s sixth full-length album. There is no doubt that the album is a departure from the rest of the band’s catalogue, as it is marked by more synthetic tones and a more processed sound. A former member of the Deep Elm label (well known for its roster of emo bands), The Appleseed Cast have seized the opportunity presented by their new label switch to distance themselves from their melodramatic past and embark on a cathartic journey of self-discovery.
There is no simple way to describe “Peregrine”. Throughout its 55-minute duration the band explores many different styles, from its instrumental opening track, reminiscent of Mogwai, to the poppy single “Here We Are,” to the title track, which would not sound out-of-place on a Coldplay disc. Besides traversing vast musical territory, the release also expands the band’s stylistic range. “Mountain Halo” blazes a new path for the group with clipped electronic percussion and digital melodies. Each track exudes individuality and has a clear and distinct personality, yet none seem out of place.
The album itself is a musical jigsaw puzzle: listening to an individual track will only expose a fragment of the entire picture, yet each is integral to the composition as a whole. The track order itself is vital to the experience. The crashing and wailing climax of the folksy “Silas’ Knife” fades quickly into the stilted percussive introduction to “Mountain Halo;” curiously, the juxtaposition of two distinct styles is not abrasive but rather quite fitting. The album was clearly composed with the intention that it be heard from start to finish: with few exceptions, the songs on the release are tied together with segues of feedback and instrumental noise to emphasize the importance of taking in the album as a whole rather than just skipping from track to track.
After the instrumental introduction, the stunning “Woodland Hunter (Part 1)” sets the tone for the record. The first half of the track is recorded in a low-fi style, as if the singer-guitarist, Christopher Crisci, was sitting alone in his bedroom with nothing but a pocket cassette recorder at his side. Suddenly, after a minute and a half, the song explodes into a frenzied, energetic chorus that slowly disintegrates as instruments cut in and out chaotically. Paired with intimate lyrics and the skillful drumming of Nathan “Nate Jr.” Richardson — a new addition to the band — the song achieves a harmony of sound and vision that far surpasses much of the group’s earlier work.
There are many other standout songs on the CD: “Woodland Hunter (Part 2),” which is nothing like its sister song, combines a choppy breakbeat with a simple melody and airy, flowing vocals to create a beautiful musical landscape. “Sunlit Ascending” contrasts a lush, full introduction with a stripped-down verse supported by a call-and-response dialogue between the echoing guitar line and Crisci’s pleading voice.
In short, the album is nothing short of breathtaking. The Appleseed Cast showcases a keen ability to write complex songs with fairly simple instrumentation. Unfortunately, the layered voices occasionally clutter the sonic atmosphere and obscure Crisci’s endearing vocals. Thankfully, this occurs infrequently and hardly detracts from the overall appeal of the album. Although some of “Peregrine” is familiar ground for The Appleseed Cast, the new elements in the band’s repertoire have propelled it to a higher plane.