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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