Plumbiferous Media

Signal Morning - Circulatory System

Aug 9th 2009
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Signal Morning - Circulatory SystemCirculatory System
Signal Morning
Score: 67








Cir­cu­la­to­ry Sys­tem was formed in 2000 after the dis­band­ing of The Olivia Tremor Con­trol (part of the Ele­phant 6 Col­lec­tive). Led by Will Cullen Hart, Cir­cu­la­to­ry Sys­tem is com­posed most­ly of mem­bers of that band. Fol­low­ing two 2001 albums which defined their quirky, exper­i­men­tal, and entire­ly unique style, the band wait­ed eight years before releas­ing their third album, Sig­nal Morn­ing - an evo­lu­tion of many of Cir­cu­la­to­ry System’s exper­i­men­tal con­cep­tions with some new ideas.

One of the great­est suc­cess­es on Sig­nal Morn­ing is Cir­cu­la­to­ry System’s abil­i­ty to use almost any­thing suc­cess­ful­ly. The open­ing track, “Wood­peck­er Greet­ing Work­er Ant,” has enough dis­tor­tion to all but elim­i­nate the actu­al pitch­es being played, but Cir­cu­la­to­ry Sys­tem man­ages to cre­ate a suc­cess­ful track by con­tin­u­ous­ly adding ele­ments that fit per­fect­ly with the already estab­lished ones, adding part after part until the com­plete­ly grown track emerges. And to ensure that no lis­ten­er thinks Cir­cu­la­to­ry Sys­tem can only func­tion with dis­tort­ed elec­tron­ics, some of the most suc­cess­ful tracks on the album are the few pri­mar­i­ly acoustic tracks near the mid­dle.

Where Cir­cu­la­to­ry Sys­tem suf­fers, then, is when they overex­tend them­selves in their exper­i­men­ta­tion. “This Morn­ing (We Remem­bered Every­thing)” has every right to be a strong track, but Cir­cu­la­to­ry Sys­tem forced enough ele­ments into the track that it turned from promis­ing to messy. Lat­er, on the album’s title track, inter­est­ing ele­ments once again com­bine to form what may best be described as musi­cal sludge. Its suc­ces­sor, “Sol­id Forms Dis­solv­ing,” is not much of an improve­ment.

Sig­nal Morn­ing is thor­ough­ly exper­i­men­tal, and the vocals are not exempt from this. After the first few instru­men­tal tracks, vocals enter on “This Morn­ing (We Remem­bered Every­thing)” as a strong part of the music. The vocals are just as mod­u­lat­ed and elec­tron­ic as could be expect­ed from this album, but they retain their human­i­ty in a sur­pris­ing­ly absorb­ing man­ner. The slight elec­tri­cal buzz they’ve been infused with allows them to slip along with the rest of the music, cre­at­ing a flu­id, com­pelling expe­ri­ence, while their some­what unearth­ly pres­ence allows them to rise occa­sion­al­ly above the orga­nized din of the album, cre­at­ing espe­cial­ly notable moments where the var­i­ous lay­ers of the music come into their great­est con­trast.

Sig­nal Morn­ing’s vocals alter­nate­ly take on the role of tra­di­tion­al vocals and that of a sort of organ­ic instru­ment, as the band care­ful­ly uses the highs and lows of Hart’s voice as a uni­fy­ing ele­ment in some places and as an ele­ment just as var­ied as any instru­ment in oth­ers. Hart’s vocals are there­fore placed in turns in full con­trast and deep below the sur­face of the music, and at one point reversed entire­ly and there­by placed at a lev­el com­plete­ly by them­selves. At the vocals’ high­est point, lines like “This morn­ing we remem­bered every­thing / The sky came down and tapped us on the shoul­der” help to devel­op the abstract motif of the music, while in oth­er places the lyrics are swal­lowed up by the music. We’re inclined to pre­fer the for­mer, as these moments give Hart’s voice a chance to shine among the extreme­ly busy instru­men­tals - but the more uni­fied moments are per­haps more indica­tive of the exper­i­men­tal mass of sound sought for by Cir­cu­la­to­ry Sys­tem.

Still, even with the abun­dance of ele­ments com­pet­ing for promi­nence on Sig­nal Morn­ing, the band always suc­ceeds at mak­ing bril­liant, clean tran­si­tions. The first most notice­able point where this occurs is 45 sec­onds into the sec­ond track, “Rocks and Stones,” in which the band com­plete­ly changes the instru­men­ta­tion of the entire track, but links both sec­tions togeth­er by retain­ing the basic melod­ic struc­ture. Two tracks lat­er, the band slow­ly, all but imper­cep­ti­bly, tran­si­tions through the last 40 sec­onds of the track from one plod­ding (yet still inter­est­ing) sound to anoth­er, allow­ing the track to remain suc­cess­ful after the vocal line that had pre­vi­ous­ly sup­port­ed the entire track is removed.

With Sig­nal Morn­ing, Cir­cu­la­to­ry Sys­tem has made inter­est­ing deci­sions, pro­vid­ing the lis­ten­er with amaz­ing tran­si­tions, a well devel­oped mix of acoustic instru­men­tals and oth­er­wise, and an over­all thought pro­vok­ing album. How­ev­er, at the same time, the album is not a com­plete suc­cess. Many tracks fail to retain the inter­est­ing qual­i­ties that dis­tin­guish oth­ers, and the band will occa­sion­al­ly try to shoe­horn too much exper­i­men­ta­tion into a sin­gle track. Exper­i­men­tal albums force bands to fig­ure out exact­ly how far they can push each track, and while Sig­nal Morn­ing is far from per­fect, for the most part, Cir­cu­la­to­ry Sys­tem has done so suc­cess­ful­ly.


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