Sunday, December 27, 2009

#6. City of Caterpillar - City of Caterpillar (Level Plane, 2002)

For the longest time, the best thing I could find to describe City of Caterpillar to people unfamiliar with their music was to ask tem to imagine a hardcore band that signed to Constellation Records. We've already talked about a few bands that have applied the dynamics and structure of post rock onto screamo way back when I got around to Funeral Diner and Gospel, but as far as I'm concerned City of Caterpillar are the alpha and the omega of that type of synthesis. They weren't the first to do it of course, Envy had already been making motions in this direction back in the late 90s and Maximillian Colby were well into it before their bassist was killed (just listen to "New Jello" if you don't believe me) but City of Caterpillar were the first I heard, so they get the edge here. Is that fair? I'd say so, but only because even if they didn't necessarily do it first they certainly did it best. Better than the stunning prog-screamo of Gospel, better than the more emotional work of Funeral Diner, better than the more epic and huge sounding work Envy did starting with A Dead Sinking Story (which sits just outside the confines of this list), better than any number of their followers. In three years of activity City of Caterpillar all but perfected the grafting of second wave screamo's intensity onto post-rock's scope and dynamics, then disintegrated before they could fuck up their legacy. Live fast, die young, leave a pretty corpse.

The meeting point between the two genres is probably best explored on "Minute-Hour-Day-Month-Year- (The Faiths in My Chest)", a nine minute exercise in tension that gets released only t obe regained by the ending reprise of the initial crescendo. This is the crux of my hardcore-signed-to-Constellation description; take out the middle section and you've got what sounds like Godspeed You Black Emperor!'s long lost brother, keep it in, and keep in mind that the transitions to and from it feel like the most natural and logical progression the song could take, and you've got one of the most amazing compositions in either genre this decade. The quartet know exactly what they're doing here, guitarists Jeff Kane and Brandon Evans using each other as counterpoints while bassist Kevin Longendyke and drummer Ryan Parrish anchor their tapestry with some of the most solid rhythm work in any side of heavier music this decade, be it in the calmeer build up and tear down sections or the aggressive middle section. "And You're Wondering How a Top Floor Could Replace Heaven" might be even better, especially the final section where Longendyke takes the lead riff and he and Evans engage in some sublime call and response vocals, but it feels more like a few separate tracks linked together a bit clumsily, though all told each of those individual songs is class-A material. The last of the longer numbers isn't up to the level of those two, suffering from too much build up for not enough payoff until that last 25 seconds where the band almost dies off and then ROARS back with the fiecest playing on the album for that short burst. Honestly though, by the time the first three tracks of the album were done it had pretty well secured a spot in my top ten of the decade, especially thanks to "Faiths in My Chest"'s excellent sense of composition

The funny thing is that they only really do the synthesis of post-rock and screamo with any sort of scope three times, four if you count the stunning, never officially recorded but widely bootlegged "Driving Spain Up a Wall." That's not to say that the other numbers don't bear the hallmarks of both sides of the coin, but that they get their point across without needing to extend themselves beyond the five minute mark. Hell, "A Heart Filled Reaction to Disatisfaction" does enough in 2:35 to rank as one of the best songs of the whole screamo scene without taking much from post-rock at all.The tracks that expand themselves to upwards of eight minutes are more interesting to examine, of course, but the fact that the shorter numbers still manage to fit in all manner of hairpin turns and stylistic shifts, sometimes even more than their longer counterparts, and intense dynamics is stunning in and of itself. Just listen to "Wen Was the Last Time We Painted Over the Blood on the Wall?", where the band takes a damn good Pageninetynine-esque beginning section - not surprising given the overlapping memberships of the two bands - to its logical end point, but then reveals that it was just a prelude to one of the most unambiguously pretty interludes of the album, almost sounding like it would be right at home on Come on Die Young, and that that was just an excuse to build up to an absolutely mind-blowing climax where the quartet get in some of the fiercest playing of the album (at least until the sudden resurgence at the end of the very next track). Likewise, "Fucking Hero" goes from straightforward hardcore to acoustic guitar-aided (!) breakdown to intense climax without ever sounding awkward or forced. Really, it's just closer "Maybe They'll Gnaw Right Through" that doesn't have any sort of progression within it, but that one's so perfectly evocative and moody that I can't fault it for not moving beyond that one set of riffs. It's not so much the progression that got me into them as the passion, and al lthe songs, regardless of their complexity are brimming with that shit.

Video: "Driving Spain Up a Wall" (not on the album, I know, but DAMN and I repeat DAMN is it essential)
Song: "And You're Wondering How a Top Floor Could Replace Heaven"
Song: "Fucking Hero"

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