I do not envy The Appleseed Cast. Their last release, the epic two disc Low Level Owl, very likely represents the peak of their career. It’s not that I don’t think they’re capable of writing more material of that caliber. Rather, it’s just that in terms of scope and execution, Low Level Owl is quite nearly perfect. The problem with this is that every Appleseed Cast release from here on out is going to be measured against an impossibly high standard; even if they match it, that effort will be met, at least to a degree, with a shrug and a “Yes, but you’ve done that before. What else have you got?”
That being the case, following Low Level Owl with Lost Songs is either complete genius or utter foolishness.
The foolish argument goes like this. Lost Songs is made up of exactly what the title implies, a collection of material originally recorded back in 1999 while the band was in a state of flux both in terms of lineup and sound. The base tracks here were written and recorded quickly and then abandoned once the lineup solidified and the band began writing new material with their new lineup. They since rediscovered the original recordings, polished them up a bit, added some new parts, and voila… Lost Songs.
Foolish? Well, if you’re trying to match a stellar effort like Low Level Owl, absolutely. Songs written and recorded while the band didn’t even have a drummer, when they had only the inklings of the sounds that would appear first on Mare Vitalis and then be perfected with Low Level Owl.. well, there’s no way they’re going to be a match in quality. And, surprise, surprise, they’re not. This is not a sequel to Low Level Owl and comes up well short when judged directly next to it.
But here’s the genius part. It’s not meant to stand up to Low Level Owl. This is not so much a follow-up as it is an archival document, and taken as such, it’s pretty riveting stuff. Lost Songs gives fans a chance to hear the band in transition while also giving completists access to some solid recordings. It also gives the band a bit of a buffer to recover from Low Level Owl.
So, taken on their own, are the Lost Songs any good? As I’ve already said, this catches the band in transition. The textures and rolling rhythms of “Mare Vitalis” are just starting to appear here as the Sunny Day-clone aspects of End of the Ring Wars fade into the background. In general, I’ve enjoyed the Appleseed Cast more with every subsequent release and when you drop these recordings back into their proper sequence in terms of recording rather than release date, that line still holds true. It’s not as good as Mare Vitalis or Low Level Owl but better than End of the Ring Wars.
Much as Frank Black did with his recent release of the Pixies’ first demo, The Appleseed Cast are giving the public a chance to peek behind the scenes into parts of the band’s life that we’d normally be denied. In essence, they’re putting their embarrassing baby pictures on display, only they’re not at all embarrassing. Nor are they essential, but they’re still quite good.
Written by Chris Brown.