Fans of The Appleseed Cast will recognize Chris Crisci, the band's lead vocalist and guitarist. Besides Cast duty, he acts as the front-man and heart behind Old Canes, a solo project started earlier in the decade. His second side-project studio album Feral Harmonic took four years to finish (it was started in '05), and it sounds like it; it is a perfect marriage of simple songwriting, lo-fi, and emotive lyricism. The music rises, crescendos and fade away in a terrific cascade of emotional writ, the same way that one loses themselves in an Appleseed Cast wall of guitar fizz.
Crisci manages to recreate his primary bands provocative progressions with a stripped down guitar trio; acoustic strings, chimes and a reverberated drum kit sound like mountains in his construction. From the intro to lead-off song "Little Bird Courage," we're dragged into a style that is distinctly Crisci; a structure which is somehow both lazily hypnotizing and energetically captivating. "Little Bird Courage" also features some great lyricism. "When I'm thirsty/you are the fountain/in the face of danger/I'm not afraid." The songs consistently revisit these kinds of simple thoughts, never branching into a confusing conceit, always easy accessible. Like "It is getting darker every hour/and every hour I thought of you;" Old Canes nail the kind of sympathetic lyrics that don't sound cheap.
Crisci, who hails from Kansas, manages to take American songwriting to an interesting and affecting place sonically while completely tearing down his comfort zone of electronics and distortion. The songs also contain harmonica and horns, giving it a truly organic feeling from start to finish, a terribly difficult aesthetic to achieve with a "lo-fi" record. Old Canes does not sound like The Appleseed Cast (save for the instantly recognizable voice), but Crisci translates the tone so perfectly, it winds up being an equal, if not opposite companion.
No matter the tempo, Feral Harmonic always feels dynamic; there is an energy to the record that can't be kept down. This is best illustrated on "Sweet," a good microcosm for understanding the record as a whole. The very thin, frenetic sounding beginning chugs along with horns and shakers and for a minute feels like it could simply end. When it does; it slows to an almost halt; instruments breaking and crumbling, the guitar suddenly fills out, the drums fall lazily into the mix, and suddenly the song becomes a different level of chaotic intensity. "Sweet" turns into a Doors-esque middle-of-the-desert trip, no lyrics, no direction, before abruptly ending and regrouping for the ballad "Under." It is a primal sounding jam; and like many of the breakdowns on the record (and in Appleseed Cast discography) it is a truly trance-like moment.
Although dizziness sets in (often) during these forty minutes, the songs inspire a kind of five-hour-energy effect. Crisci and Canes make you want to run around and cause a mess, jump up and down, simply live, or at least go outside and see the sky. It makes sense— "Feral" means an escape from domestication and a return to a wild state. Old Canes, for Crisci, as well as the listener, is an escape from the domesticated rock band, into a primal space of acoustic sound. -joe puglisi