The Appleseed Cast, Mare Vitalis

The Appleseed Cast, Mare Vitalis

In one of my junior years of college, an English prof asked the class what was the greatest work of literature, for all time. Myself, and a few others, volunteered the King James Version of the Bible, but we were overruled by the surly prof in favor of Moby Dick. Now, of the two, I have only read one cover to cover…and it was not Moby Dick. Herman Melville’s great novel of the sea is something I have only experienced in excerpts, but it seems to me that it serves us best now as shorthand for capital-O Obsession, and in a larger sense, as a metaphor for the pursuit of artistic greatness. I imagine that this book, and assorted other 20-pound novels, is what people think of when they consider greatness in literature. All works of art are evaluated similarly, when it comes their turn for canonization. How impressive would a diminutive David be? Or a 90-minute Godfather?

And why on earth would the foregoing paragraph be an opening for my brief review of The Appleseed Cast and their 2nd Deep Elm full-length, Mare Vitalis? Because I want to believe that there is a sane reason why a landlocked emo band from Lawrence, Kansas, would record an hour-long concept album about the Sea. Like too many bands already, Appleseed Cast choose to work in the belly of the rock’s current Moby Dick — Radiohead’s OK Computer. Yeah, the subject matter is strictly American emo, what with the “hallowed breezes through your hair” of the disc’s fourth track, “Forever Longing the Golden Sunsets,” but the sound is all Computer. Or, more precisely, RadioChunk. And that’s not a bad thing. This is not a bad record; it’s really damn good, actually.

But, like the Android says, ambition makes you look pretty ugly…especially when you title your album and two of your songs in Latin. Yes, Latin is cool, but the first rule of any artist is to use your powers for good. You want to title your record “Sea of Life” or “the Living Sea?” Fine, then use English. It’s good enough for Dirty Three, god bless ’em. And the opening track, with its relatively sweet lyrical restraint, should not have a title that undoes it, as “The Immortal Soul of Mundi Cani,” surely manages to do.

Aside from a bad case of the Billy Corgans, this is a fine band. Guitarist and vocalists Christopher Crisci and Aaron Piller work well together, neither one overtaking the other, and sounding appropriately shimmering and melodic for the duration. Along with the bassist Marc Young and Josh Baruth, they create speaker-shaking, high-end and decidedly un-precious emo rock, or post-core or whatever. I did not once get tired of it; maybe that has something to do with Ed Rose, who recorded this album at Red House in Kansas, and who has produced fellow monsters of emo, the Get Up Kids. (I think he also did some board work for fellow Kansans and former Merge act Butterglory.) The Appleseed Cast are a wholly decent bunch, and they’re supposedly a big emo band. Yeah, they’re pretentious as hell, and their songs are too long, and this may be the first concept album based on a Christopher Cross hit. But if you can recognize these aspects of the recording as being fairly minor obstacles, then you’ll have a disc chock full of autumn-lovin’, saltwater depression. Drink up.

(Deep Elm Records -- P.O. Box 36939, Charlotte, NC. 28236; http://www.deepelm.com/; )
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Sunday, October 1st, 2000. Filed under Reviews.

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