CD Review of Sagarmatha by The Appleseed Cast
The Appleseed Cast: Sagarmatha
Recommended if you like
Explosions in the Sky, The Cure,
Helio Sequence
The Appleseed Cast:

Reviewed by Neil Carver


he Appleseed Cast may have started out in the late ‘90s, lumped in with the Emo movement, but a decade later, their sound is anything but. Their latest studio release, Sagarmatha (the name of the area in Nepal that contains Mt. Everest, and the name of an international distributor of cannabis seeds – you decide which is more appropriate), is a beautiful, lush work of almost entirely instrumental alt-pop. The album is evocative and ambient without ever forgetting that pop music is supposed to be catchy. When the few vocals do arrive, they serve merely to supplement the music, a perfect grounding element that keeps the effervescent songs from flying too far away.

Sagarmatha opens with "As the Little Things Go" and "A Bright Light" at 8:15 and 7:05, respectively. The first builds over the six minutes of layered guitars and synthesizers to a culminating wash of vocals almost drowned in the music. A solid, driving, straight-ahead drum track never lets the forward momentum drag. Just as the song finishes with a blur of sound, "A Bright Light" picks up like a second movement, almost a mirror image of the first. Solid pop melodies and plaintive lyrics repeating "one bright light is all" buried under a wave of distorted guitar leads to the music slowly peeling away to reveal elegant strumming and spacey keyboards carried by a simple, but perfectly placed machine rhythm. "A Bright Light" also ends in a wash of sound, but with a quieter, more embracing feel that says, "Okay… you’re here now."

"The Road West," the third track and another eight-minute number, is the most meditative song on the album. It is structured like three different songs, a dark and ambient piece that breaks on the rocks of some hard, distorted guitars, only to fall back into the calm of a sparkling melody that plays like sunshine on water. This sense of multiple acts within a song works throughout the album, each act complementing and reinforcing the other so that no words are necessary to take you on the journey this road delivers.

The only real pop single on the album is the fourth track, "The Summer Before," and it’s the anomaly, being only three minutes long and constructed with the standard stanza and refrain format. Yet it’s the perfect single for this album, because it captures its spirit, providing something radio-friendly that doesn’t compromise what Sagarmatha is really all about.

The last half of the album is nearly all instrumental, perhaps taking influence from the likes of Explosions in the Sky or Godspeed You Black Emperor! as much as the Cure or Cocteau Twins. They impressively mix expansive, multilayered instruments with sparse and minimalist electronics (which make "Like a Locus" a standout trip-hop-esque dance number), then wrap it all up beautifully with the most passionate and aggressive of tracks. "An Army of Fireflies" just drips with Disintegration influences, using pounding drums and dueling guitars to speak instead of Robert Smith’s vocals.

Whatever the Appleseed Cast has been in the past (Midwest post rock… what?) they have truly transformed themselves into a band that creates fascinating soundscapes that may be experimental, but never fail to hook you with their unspoken story. Highly recommended.

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