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It takes 30 minutes to get from the sleepy seaside town of Beverly into downtown Boston. It takes half of that time to get through “Sycamore,” the 2009 anthem of Beverly band Caspian, but the journey is essentially the same. The songs starts with an acoustic guitar line so sleepy, hesitant, and peaceful it’s difficult to imagine even leaving that sonic space. But the wheels start to turn, the riff picks up momentum, and soon a woozy bass and pulsating drum beat enter, as if to simulate the rumble of rubber wheels down the cement number 1 highway. Then the guitars turn electric, drum cymbals crash furiously, and the song is enveloped in a roar of frenzied, industrial metallic feedback. The city has arrived, with all of its hum and density.
Caspian have made this trip many times. They have made the specific trip from Beverly to the Boston area hundreds of times, shuttling back and forth from home to gigs at places like the Middle East and the Sinclair. But they’ve also completed the musical journey of “Sycamore” at concerts from Dublin to Austin to Paris. Despite local roots, Caspian is geographically transient, and their wordless, symphonic music has resonated emotionally around the globe.
I met Caspian at the Sinclair in Harvard Square, at the juncture between a mammoth 23-show European tour and a cross-country North American road trip. Understandably, they’re exhausted. “It’s not the lack of sleep, it’s the transience of it all,” guitarist Philip Jamieson explains to me. “Just floating from place to place and not being able to sit still, or even exist somewhere for more than 10 or 12 hours.”
The weariness is apparent in Jamieson’s voice when he addresses the crowd at the beginning of the show. “Hi Boston, it’s nice to be home for a little bit,” he murmurs. But just as they do on “Sycamore,” the band picks up speed and energy throughout the set, adding guitar with increased fervor.
The music they play is technically “post-rock,” a term created in the early 2000s for bands playing non-rock songs with rock instrumentation. Though Jamieson balks at the term—“it feels a little pretentious,” he says—they’ve clearly adopted a post-rock tradition made famous by Explosions in the Sky and Caspian’s heroes, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, that is heavily reliant on gigantic builds. Caspian liken their songs to symphonies: they present order or peace, then destroy it. Sometimes they piece harmony back together again; more often their songs end in a blaze of primal noise and energy.
This entropic descent is most clearly exhibited by Jamieson, who shows no fatigue when he’s ripping through epics like 2012’s “Gone in Bloom and Bough.” He’s a very tall man who commands the stage by flailing his limbs in every direction; they just might be the “ The Four Trees” for which the band’s 2007 album is named. “I’m not super fun. I think everyone agrees,” he tells me morosely before the set. It’s true. But fun isn’t at all what Caspian is going for. They aim for immersion. “We’ll play in any four walls where you’re able to completely get enclosed in the sound,” Jamieson says.
The band has attempted to enclose audiences for 10 years in every corner of the globe, including in Guangzhou, China for the Qiangyuan Music Festival in 2010 and in Zottegem, Belgium for the Dunk!festival in 2011. In May, they played at the first Boston Calling music festival in City Hall Plaza, which “didn’t seem like really great idea at the outset...but was probably the best day of my life,” Jamieson confesses. Now, they’re on tour to promote their newest release, “Hymn for the Greatest Generation,” a grab-bag EP of new originals, a demo, and remixes.
The album title references Tom Brokaw’s label for the generation who fought World War II and gave birth to the baby boomers. Within the title track, there’s a heavy feeling of nostalgia and reverence for their grandparents’ generation. But at the same time, the band lists essential influences spanning every single generation since then, from Led Zeppelin to Rush to Prodigy to Godspeed, even to dubstep. “I think playing post-rock is a reaction of me getting into [EDM], that heavier electronic music sound,” drummer Joe Vickers says.
There are very little indicators in Caspian’s music as to where they are from or in what era they exist. But it’s this universality, and their integration of many references, that’s made them successful all over the world. If you close your eyes and put on “Hymn for the Greatest Generation,” you might hear the crash of the waves at the beaches of Normandy...then again, it might just be the engine roar of a car as it leaves Beverly, Massachusetts, on the way to another late-night gig.
—Staff writer Andrew R. Chow can be reached at andrew.chow@thecrimson.
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