The name of Calliope's fourth proper full-length -- Sounds Like Circles Feel -- nods toward an abstraction in music that has fascinated me for years: the cyclical movement of some melodies, arrangements and sounds. Mathematics has shown us that circles are present everywhere in the physical world, so why not in music as well? When I saw Sounds Like Circles Feel, I thought perhaps Calliope had something with a lot going on between the lines. What I found was not exactly what I expected.
My problem with Sounds Like Circles Feel is not that it does not live up to my expectations. I dealt with that early on after a couple listens. My criticism lies with the lackadaisical aura that permeates most of this album. Down-tempo approaches have their rightful homes, but Circles seems tired, devoid of any of the "ethereal" energy oft lamented upon by the press.
There is texture here. Once you throw the ol' headphones on, an entire microcosm of sounds percolate amidst the track's dense textures. But the overall product of these intricacies still comes across as bland and unmoving. A lot of that has to do with the overall mix, but it's also the songs themselves, which seem to obscure the real nice work going on between the lines.
If what Calliope has done with Circles has a place, it's wedged within the spent and mortal lethargy that David Gilmore has infused into the last incarnation of the once-haunting Pink Floyd. Lesson to be learned by all: you do not have to sacrifice energy and feeling for dreaminess or flow. Putting nuance and fun little treats into even slightly boring material will not make a grand epic. Because if the listener can't get into the song writing, even 49 tracks of texture doesn't mean spit.
Some of the best ethereal albums have been products of heart-wrenching delivery and arranging and less of premeditative "psychedelia." Look at Massive Attack, Tricky, Mad Season, A.I., Tosca, Zero 7 or even DJ Mugg's recent Dust. Each has created engaging, mellow yet catchy, edging and affecting music without intricacies, textures and ethereal wash.
Only Circles' final two tracks had any effect on me at all. "Winds" is a billowing, majestic introduction to album closer "It's Later Than I Thought," a smooth exposition of intimate instrumental musings wrapped in soft, haunting pillows of glorious trumpets and a sweet, innocent guitar arrangement. But the album is devoid of an agent that binds it together to really snag the heart and make fond the ear. Calliope is on its way to developing a signature sound, but the band needs better song writing and delivery before they sink into the dreamy realm of headphone construction.
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