Appleseed Cast came on the scene for most people in 1998, when they signed to the then-mighty emo powerhouse Deep Elm Records. They were a textbook Deep Elm Band, appearing on the second (and arguably best) of the seminal Emo Diaries comps alongside early rare tracks from The Blacktop Cadence and Pop Unknown. As emo as Appleseed Cast is as a name, you may be surprised to find that the band initially took form under the even-more-emo moniker of December’s Tragic Drive, itself a lift from a Sunny Day Real Estate lyric. They played dynamic guitar-driven rock in the tradition of SDRE and Mineral and were much more interesting than the average Midwestern band. Appleseed got under way formally in Lawrence, KS, and sounded a lot like Midwestern bands from the era, but actually initially took form in late 90’s California around the core of guitarists Chris Crisci and Aaron Pillar. Their sound sounded much like mainstays like No Knife and Boilermaker, maybe too much for some people.
As the new millennium dawned and the sound they purveyed became less in fashion, Appleseed Cast pursued more of a post-rock direction. The band releasing a sprawling post-rock opus entitled Low Level Owl in two contract-fulfilling volumes six months apart. Keyboards figured more prominently and vocals faded into the background, obfuscated by long reverbs and thematically repetitive guitar lines. There is a fine line between ambitious and pretentious, but the band won a good deal of acclaim from long-time fans as well as outlets that had snubbed them previously, even garnering the oft-bandied "American Radiohead" title for a time.
The new Appleseed Cast release Sagarmatha comes on the heels of an ambivalently received follow-up to Low Level Owl entitled Two Conversations on the blink-and-they’re-gone faux-indie Tiger Style. The following record, Peregrine was their first for The Militia Group and seemed to coalesce the best parts of their early, more conventionally structured material with the epic post-rock leanings of Low Level Owl. While Peregrine was well-received by fans and critics and well-loved by Crisci and Pillar, Sagarmatha returns to more of an LLO sensibility, with only two of the songs featuring any sort of vocals.
In recent years, Appleseed Cast have been incorporating more electronic elements into their music, embracing a Minus The Bear sound replete with loops and sampling. A bit of a Death Cab fixation features prominently as well. Sagarmatha’s opening "As The Little Things Go" features a very DCFC intro and coda, stretching to a pleasant eight minutes plus of reverb and arpeggiated guitar that gets almost Pinback at times. Sagarmatha was mostly home recorded and self-produced, which may account for the epic length of some of the tracks.There are no vocals at all until three or four songs into the record, but you won’t miss them with the tasteful arrangements. A couple moments seem very familiar, like the opening of "Raise The Sails". It’s one of the strongest tracks, but may be guilty of sounding a wee bit like Minus The Bear remixing Death Cab’s "The President Of What?" Now that Death Cab are a big deal, I can see someone from Atlantic having a quiet word with the Appleseed gents about just how far those apples fall from the tree. Similarities aside, from where I’m sitting Sagarmatha is the best Appleseed Cast release yet, rarely boring and splitting the difference nicely between the electronic and the organic.