It’s taken me a few weeks to get around to publishing this, but the Massachusetts instrumentalists Caspian had a rollercoaster of a year in 2013 and deserve a bit of attention. Following the release of their Waking Season LP in 2012 they’ve toured extensively, playing benefit concerts and joining the UK outfit 65DaysOfStatic on the road for the stateside promotion for their own new record. It’s been a triumphant year for them, but one with a significant amount of tragedy when bassist Chris Friedrich passed away suddenly in August.
In the wake of this shocking news, the band continued undaunted with a planned EP that was intended to be a companion piece to Waking Season, consisting of remixes of album tracks along with previously-unreleased material. Hymn for the Greatest Generation is poignantly dedicated to Friedrich’s memory but the meaning behind the title track is more universal and, quite frankly, I can’t imagine a more appropriate way to remember him.
Caspian have consciously pushed themselves away from their peers and bands that originally inspired them, taking the instrumental guitar formula beyond the now-familiar loud-quiet-loud dynamic in favour of a more textured and nuanced approach. Hymn… then does build into a gradual crescendo, but makes use of a more varied palette of instrumentation including both acoustic and electric guitars and strings…and does so very effectively. The only hint of the band’s usual *electric* guitar-driven style is in the reversed samples that feature in the song’s introduction; there’s a more measured, comforting and ‘homely’ vibe here with a sense of timelessness.
The Heart that Fed may seem to initially have a conventional arrangement of alternating delicate arpeggios and crashing distorted power chords, but woven into this is a selection of fan-submitted music box samples, altered and evolved into a powerful and dramatic whole. It’s the one track here that is what I think of as ‘typical’ for the band, which is I think a hint of an imminent change of direction for them; it’s as though this tune is drawing a line under the Waking Season era before looking ahead to the next record.
CMF in contrast is, tellingly, devoid of a bass guitar part and is instead driven by delicate acoustic guitar throughout, giving a feeling of thoughtful reflection. Its simplicity is its greatest strength I think and that gentle, understated arrangement makes it stand out in a very different way from the rest of the record.
Equally interesting, but very different, is the EP’s second half. The Waking Season album track High Lonesome began life as the ‘demo’ version presented here, consisting of soothing washes of looped harmonies that soar and coil in on themselves. The Arms and Sleepers remix of another one of Waking Season’s tracks, Procellous, is much less recognisable than the original edit: the towering, dramatic maelstrom of the original is transformed into a gentle, hypnotic affair that takes a less-obvious aspect of the song and brings it to the fore.
The Lazerbeak remix of Halls of Summer, on the other hand, bears a closer resemblance to the LP edit and keeps the ‘vibe’ of the original intact, but adds extra emphasis to aspects of the arrangement that were buried deeper in the mix. The layered nature of the band’s sound lends itself well to re-imagining like this, and forms an interesting ‘duality’ to the record, rather than making it feel like two separate entities thrown together.
Despite the ‘game of two halves’ running order the record still feels very cohesive, although perhaps hinting that they are a band in transition. But then, listening to their back catalogue so far they’ve always been evolving in terms of sound and each new phase has been a pleasant surprise to me (I wasn’t sure if they could top Tertia, but Waking Season proved very emphatically how wrong I was).