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Low Level Owl: Volume 1
Artist: The Appleseed Cast
Label: Deep Elm Records 
Length: 14 Tracks

It's hard to pinpoint a group that can glaze over different musical plains, yet make all of their sounds, as unorthodox as they may be, seem like they fit together. The Appleseed Cast's latest can best be summarized as a melancholy sequence of stunning orchestrations and breathtaking crescendos. They start out with an emo base, but instead of calculating their sounds around that style, the group does a phenomenal job throwing that rule book out the window. The band is patient with their introductory sequences on most tracks only to fully unleash during their later portions. "On Reflection" does a fantastic job throwing listeners for a loop, making them assume the ntire track will keep its gentle tone, shocking them when it blossoms with a fast paced dynamic. "Steps and Numbers" and "Signal" are by far the most accessible, but both still possess an intriguing mystique to fit the mood of the disc. The album's finale "View of a Burning City" leaves listeners in a dreamlike state, urgently desiring the release of Volume 2 in the series.

Andy Argyrakis 8/23/2001

Low Level Owl: Volume 1 is the first of two recordings to be released by The Appleseed Cast this year, with Volume 2 coming in the fall.  Both discs were recorded at the same time, and Volume 1 shows that one of the top bands in the emo genre is continuing to grow and expand their horizons. Not content to rest on their laurels, the band has added more keyboards, more experimentation, more studio tricks, and a bit more non-traditional percussion.

Produced by veteran Ed Rose, the disc presents fourteen tracks which all run together as a single piece, and one with a very atmospheric sound.  The album sounds like a film score.  Nearly half of the disc is instrumental, and the band offers a much more "lush" sound than before.  The guitars are still there, but they are less up front than on the band's previous full length discs (Mare Vitalis and End of the Ring Wars).

Lyrically, the band continues with intimate, and often cryptic, examinations of life and the inner self.  In "On Reflection" they lament a friend who has sold them out:

Fall out. Your friends are toys.
In time.  That outstretched hands you had to shake.
Will sell you out.  And leave your wreck.
And "Steps and Numbers"  is a swipe at our celebrity culture, and maybe even at the record industry itself:
Are you wishing on a star. Did you know your dreams are sold.
To people who dream only of gold.  They'll find a way to pull stars down.
Other noteworthy tunes include "Blind Man's Arrow," "Mile Marker," and "Signal," as well as "Doors Lead to Questions," which features a Zeppelin-esque looped drum phrase at its backbone.

Low Level Owl: Volume 1 shows that The Appleseed Cast is willing to grow and change with the times and not continuously rehash what has worked for them in the past.  This is the kind of album you'll want to listen to alone, late at night with all of the lights turned out...and you can create your own film in your head.

Ken Mueller 8/24/2001

Low Level Owl: Volume I, the third full-length project from the Appleseed Cast, is the first of two entries in a 26-song set from the Lawrence, Kansas-based quartet, with the second volume slated for release in late October of 2001.  Like The End of the Ring Wars and Mare Vitalis before it, the  latest effort falls broadly into the emo/dream pop section of the modern rock panorama.  But where Ring Wars established the group's firm grasp of guitar-driven post-grunge and Mare Vitalis followed a more subdued, atmospheric path, Low Level Owl harvests the collective spirit of both works and sifts the result through a dazzling latticework of pure pop know-how. The fantastically rousing "Mile Marker" proceeds nimbly from the sunny, loping alterna-pop of Matthew Sweet to an all-out volley of crashing cymbals and distorted guitars at song's end.  "Signal" is a similarly stunning blend of ambient instrumental trimmings, poignant word pictures (Stand there/Dance with a memory/ The caption reads/ It's all over now/ Do you feel alone) and soaring harmonies, all nailed firmly to an solid mastery of the pop music format.  On top of all of this, the sundry instruments, loops and sound effects are blended together in such a way that they form a sort of homogenous musical backcloth whose beautifully lush ambience works to anchor the record's imposing sense of continuity.

Where Mare Vitalis and Ring Wars included only two instrumental songs between them, Low Level Owl features seven instrumentals, each segued with their vocal counterparts such that the album runs from start to finish without breaks.  "Bird of Paradise" is a pleasantly frenetic entry that sports an oddly engaging pattern of piercing electronic notes.  The lullabylike opener, "The Waking of Pertelotte," is a soothing, similarly well-constructed piece that perfectly establishes Owl's airy and contemplative tone.  On the other hand, the overly repetitious construction of "Flowers Falling From Dying Hands" and "Messenger" makes all but the first few measures of these songs tedious.  Likewise, the album-closing "View of a Burning City" squanders nearly half of its copious eight minute running time to what sounds, more than anything else, like random industrial noise.  And the looping of only a single drum rhythm and four-note guitar line for close to three minutes on "Doors Lead to Questions" offers little incentive for anything but the most cursory listen.   Still, if the bulk of the instrumental efforts possess a mostly superfluous character, they simultaneously exhibit both a consummate sense of sonic layering and a meticulous attention to detail.  And their collective weakness is certainly offset by the vocal portion of the release, which boasts some of the finest modern rock that the genre has to offer.  Indeed, with emo currently being all the rage and the pop/rock landscape veritably swarming with sound-alike artists, the members of the Appleseed Cast have risen to the occasion and created a particularly striking work that is as distinctive as it is grand.

Bert Gangl 9/11/2001

The last time I saw Appleseed Cast in concert, this emo band was very loud, and as I remember them then, holding lots of hope for the world. With Low Level Owl: (Volume 1), Appleseed Cast is almost musically and lyrically subdued. If you like the style of The Juliana Theory at a more sombre sound level, you may enjoy this project. Then again, the lyrics may have you guessing again. _Low Level Owl_ strikes a sour chord.

Upon my first several listens to Low Level Owl, I was very excited to hear a very insightful and deep development for Appleseed Cast. But now, I pose an open question to this band: is life so bad that there is no hope? I suggest the band take a lesson or two from The Juliana Theory, who posed hope in "Musicbox Superhero" (as just one example).

As I listen to the lyrics, "On Reflection" is negative with its focus on "you sell out." An instrumental named "Flowers Falling from Dying Hands" sounds more dreadful than the title or sentiment of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" by the Kingston Trio.

The brightest music arrangements from Low Level Owl are the instrumentals, and "Steps and Numbers" rocks, one of two only bright lights in this collection, but it still keeps the listener on guard that there are "people who dream only of gold."

Ditto for "Signal," which warns, "we'll light a flame that says we are."

I like emo; I really do. However, The Appleseed Cast has recorded a project that is very difficult to listen to, specifically in light of the United States' tragedy in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania (please see the date I am completing my review).

And in light of my notes and timing, I'm certain The Appleseed Cast will reflect accordingly and continue its music and lyrics, as this band is incredibly talented but needs to meet the mark for its listeners.

Olin Jenkins   September 23, 2001


 

   
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