It’s an all too familiar story: band signs to independent label, gains popularity, signs a major label deal, releases a record on said major label that gets under-promoted, and then band finds themselves without a record label a year later. Violent Waves, the fourth studio album by the experimental indie rock band Circa Survive, was self-produced, self-released, and recorded in approximately the span of one week. The band’s major label debut, 2010’s Blue Sky Noise, was polished, finely produced, catchy, and an overall commercial effort. Those may be compliments to many bands nowadays, but for Circa Survive, the album was a stray away from the band’s core strengths. With Violent Waves, a central focus of the band was to capture their live sound – an attribute of which they felt was essential to Circa’s appeal. The end result was nearly an hour’s length of surprisingly satisfying progressive rock that was able to capture the band’s true essence far more naturally than compared to previous efforts.
“Nothing is sacred,” howls Anthony Green, Circa’s lead vocalist, on the first track, “Birth of the Economic Hit Man.” The sound is reminiscent of 2005’s Juturna and is a stark contrast to the intro track to Blue Sky Noise. “Sharp Practice” evokes the more melodic choruses of Deftones’ Saturday Night Wrist, while “The Lottery” hits the listener from all angles, aided by a guest spot from Thursday frontman, Geoff Rickly. Although the first half of the album didn’t necessarily knock my socks off, Circa certainly succeed in returning to their roots through the first handful of tracks (note the final two minutes of “My Only Friend”).
The true gems on Violent Waves come in the latter half of the album. “Think of Me When They Sound” is haunting, melancholic, and beautifully simple. Green is stripped-down, bare, and vulnerable, singing about a lost love who found happiness elsewhere. Meanwhile, the instrumentation on this track is raw; you can hear the fingers change notes on the guitar and the different tones when the string are pressed with varying measures of firmness. There is a cryptic loop running along the backdrop and then it suddenly evolves into an atmospheric Pink Floyd-esque prelude for the following track, “Brother Song,” where you can hear the faint sounds of flies, wildlife, and a running creek. Then you have “Bird Sounds,” which has the instrumentation of modern Radiohead and features a very urgent rhythm section towards the end. “I’ll Find a Way,” Violent Waves’ closing track, finishes the album in the same manner in which the album begins – with a seven-minute musical journey that, although initially daunting, can be a rewarding listen.
Violent Waves is precisely what the title implies. The sound is far more diverse than anything Circa Survive has released prior, requires multiple listens, and may even be polarizing and divisive for fans of Blue Sky Noise’s commercial sound. Overly catchy hooks are avoided, and it’s almost impossible to jump into the middle of this album and start listening. But maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Green is in his prime as a vocalist on this record and the musicianship conveyed by the band as a whole absolutely shines through the chaos. “You get what you pay for, we can’t sell our Goddamn souls anymore,” proclaims Green on “Suitcase.” Violent Waves isn’t flawless and may certainly take a few spins before the light bulb flickers on, but once it does, it becomes evidently clear that Circa Survive have only just begun to tap into their potential as a progressive rock band.
3.5 out of 5