I first heard Circulatory System seven years ago while I was in college. I borrowed a bunch of alt-country albums from a professor of mine that changed my life. Among them, Son Volt’s Trace, Whiskeytown’s Pneumonia, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Uncle Tupelo’s Anodyne (still one of my all-time favorite albums), Jim White’s No Such Place and the self-titled album from Circulatory System. I loved all of them, except Circulatory System. I hated it. It sounded too much like The Polyphonic Spree on acid. It was straight out of the ’70s and it drove me crazy. So why am I reviewing the latest from the group? Because I wanted to give them another chance. The professor from whom I borrowed the albums and I had very similar tastes in music and frankly, he knew (and probably still knows) more than I ever will.
So here I am seven years later listening to Signal Morning, an album that took seven and a half years just to make by the group that I originally hated. Originally. This album is a complete 180-degree turn. Yes, it’s still full of strange uniqueness, but where the last album was more steeped in ’70s drug rock, this album is all about electronics and the sounds that they make.
“Woodpecker Greeting Worker Ant” has the harmonizing of William Cullen Hart and Bill Doss almost unintelligible because everything, including the heavy bass, sounds as if it’s been run through static. “Rocks and Stones” annoyingly sounds like it is building to something that never comes to fruition.
“Electronic Diversion” and the end of “Overjoyed” are almost Dadaist in how much noise and reverb is blasted with no real rhyme or reason, while “This Morning (We Remembered Everything)” has a distinct mid-tempo rhythm. “The Breathing Universe” is a soft one-minute acoustic number, and “News from the Heavenly Loom” is just a 23-second acoustic interlude.
Even with the Dadaist tendencies, Signal Morning is more cohesive then their self-titled affair. So after listening to this album, do I like them any more or less than I did? Well, I like this album better by far. With the mixture of percussion, guitars, various other instruments and a heavy dose of electric static, this will go down as their best album so far — but I can’t see myself ever listening to it again. If you like The Olivia Tremor Control or Neutral Milk Hotel, then you will love this album, especially since the members of The Olivia Tremor Control, as well as Jeff Mangum and Julian Koster of Neutral Milk Hotel, lend their talents to this album. Try it if you like any of these groups, or if you are looking for a completely unique musical experience. As for me, I prefer Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo.
Cloud Recordings: www.cloudrecordings.com