The Circulatory System, Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY- 4/17
NYC ROLL-TOP: Riding Waves of Bark and Light
I tried to convince my friend that The Circulatory System needed both
of their drummers, Hannah Jones and Philip Brown (the latter on loan from
Summer Hymns). "They're playing the same parts most of the time," he said at
several points during the psychedelic band's headlining set at Southpaw —
their first night off from their tour with Thrill Jockey's Sea and Cake.
"It's the force of it," I said. If a double-tracked vocal creates
depth through slight differences in intonation, then so do two drummers
playing the same part. I don't think I convinced him.
Actually, it's not just the force of it. It's more, like, if such a thing is
possible, the personality of it. Personality plays an awfully
important role in The Circulatory System. Will Hart is the band's clear
leader — their sole songwriter, their producer, their vocalist. He can play
a whole mess of instruments, too, including drums. Yet, on the band's
self-titled album, he constantly relegates the duty to others — including
Jones, Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum, the Olivia Tremor Control's Eric
Harris, and others. It is done so in the faith that each will bring
something entirely new to the songs.
Each member of the six-member touring version of the The Circulatory System
has his or her own albums under his belt — keyboardist Pete Erchick
releases material under the name Pipes You See, Pipes You Don't; Jones has
issued two wonderfully ethereal discs under the Lorkakar moniker; Brown
drums with Summer Hymns; cellist Heather McIntosh leads The Instruments;
multi-instrumentalist John Fernandes has had a large hand in numerous Olivia
Tremor Control-related projects, such as the Black Swan Network. (Most of
these discs were for sale at the band's sprawling merch table, along with
seemingly dozens of other homemade releases by them and their friends, put
out by self-run collectives like Cloud Recordings and the Orange Twin Recording Company.
In fact, the show at Southpaw began with opening sets by Pipes You See and
The Instruments — really just the members of The Circulatory System playing
in slightly different configurations (and drawing from Erchick and
McIntosh's songbooks). The names are the important thing, and – with the
tacit acknowledgement that they were different bands, repeatedly earnestly
by the bandmembers as they traded instruments – they went about their
business. The opening sets were impassioned – The Instruments' set featured
a lovely guest appearance by Music Tapes musician Julian Koster on singing
saw – though a taste under rehearsed.
The Circulatory System, on the other hand, are a force. There is an
incredible amount of space in the music — an uncanny amount, actually, for
a band that is both as loud and big as they are. Really, though, it's their
choice of voices, and their subsequent combination — clarinet, cello,
bells, five vocalists, and – yeah – two drum kits. Though not nearly as rich
as Hart's intricate studio layerings, the band's attack was darkly
articulate. And though there was virtually no improvisation, the music still
managed to turn and shift in unpredictable ways. In addition to a handful of
new songs, more rocking than their predecessors, the band rearranged tunes
from their 2001 debut, including "Yesterday's World", "The Lovely Universe",
"Should A Cloud Replace A Compass", and "Waves of Bark and Light".
For the encore, the band dusted off "The Opera House" — the brightly
triumphant first track off the Olivia Tremor Control's debut, Music from
the unrealized film script, DUSK AT CUBIST CASTLE. Brown, it was
announced, had never played the song before. And that was precisely where
his personality shined through. As the band built on the shining major
chords, he thundered full on into the song, missing a beat or two as they
pulled back into slower time for the next set of verses. In the missing
beats and subsequent chaos, the song found punky life.
Jesse Jarnow would like to
someday be reanimated..