This year has been an incredible one for long-awaited, long delayed albums, or ones that have been in limbo for an extended period of time. You could probably mark its starting point as Thanksgiving Week 2008, during which Guns `n’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy finally came out. And just a few weeks back, Q-Tip’s long shelved Kamaal The Abstract finally got a commercial release, suggesting that patience and positivity can sometimes see good deeds come to light eventually. On a lower profile, but no less musically significant scale, Circulatory System’s second album, seven years in the making, is finally seeing the light of day.
Yet while Axl Rose sat on his project until he was absolutely satisfied, and Q-Tip was on the receiving end of a record label’s disinterest, Circulatory System ringleader Will Cullen Hart was dealing with a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, which kept him away from music and out of the public eye for most of the past decade, save for a tour with his previous band, the legendary Olivia Tremor Control. That this album got made and finally makes its way to loyal, eager and patient fans is a testament to Hart’s commitment to his art, which hasn’t aged or softened a bit in the past seven years. In fact, those who became swept away in the woozy, epic psych-pop of Circulatory System’s self-titled debut should be similarly enamored and enchanted with Signal Morning. The songs are fuzzy and trippy, and altogether charming, while the album’s artwork features many of the familiar Hart collage paintings that adorned the sleeves of albums by both Circulatory System and Olivia Tremor Control.
Signal Morning moves quickly, as the group—which features Elephant 6 alumni such as Jeff Mangum, Julian Koster and Bill Doss—buzzes through 17 songs in a brisk 45 minutes. Certainly there are shorter albums or those more jam-packed material, but the pace and volume here are perfect to maintain an invigorating flow while giving each song just the right amount of space to breathe and flourish. Most of the tracks here stay well below four minutes, but on a high energy epic such as the five-and-a-half-minute “Round Again,” the group can build up one hell of a song, incorporating playful psych-pop effects while ultimately charging through a big, beefy rock tune.
“Woodpecker Greeting Worker Ant” buzzes and stomps and claps, opening up into a hard rocking but still quite quirky and joyous track that only truly gets going once Hart’s voice enters the frame. “Rocks and Stones” is simultaneously more melodic and more bizarre than the track that precedes it, blending odd synth effects, sputtering drums, vocal harmonies and plenty more distortion. “This Morning (We Remembered Everything)” is much sunnier and more cheerful, as Hart sings “the sky came down, and tapped us on the shoulder.” It, too, descends into a buzzing mid-section of noise and curiosities, but picks up again shortly thereafter. The string-laden “Overjoyed” lives up to its name with a rollicking rhythm and irresistible fuzz-rock melody. And “Blasting Through” starts off barely audible, only to, um, blast through with oddball sound effects and, of course, lots more fuzz.
In spite of the difficulties that led to the delay of Circulatory System output and the uncertainty of the group at large, Signal Morning is a symbol of the joy and the strength that the group is capable of, even under unlikely terms. It’s a highly enjoyable and creative album, one with no shortage of sonic easter eggs or fun surprises. And yet it’s still one that feels warm and natural. And after all the uncertainty and the sometimes stinging hand of reality, it’s a reassuring document of Hart’s overwhelming creative vision, and one that depicts the long-dormant Elephant 6 logo to boot.
Olivia Tremor Control – Black Foliage Animation Music Volume 1
The Microphones – The Glow, Part Two
Women – Women
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.