ALBUM: Mosaics Within Mosaics
ARTIST: Circulatory System
In a significant way, reviewing a Circulatory System album track-by-track seems a bit counterproductive. Like many of their Elephant 6 Recording Company brethren, Circulatory System’s previous output was based on snippets and half-baked flashes of composition that freely flowed in and around one another—the idea of songs in the traditional sense was eschewed, though each piece did contain melody and at least one delectable bite on which to savor. 2009’s Signal Morning, the ensemble’s last offering, provided the canvas to which main thrust mind Will Cullen Hart and co. splattered in bursts their unique (even for Elephant 6) brand of subdued, introspective psych-pop. The main difference with Mosaics is, while there is more than enough of a flowing form to give credence to the title and former way that the band did things, many of the tracks here are able to stand on their own, not bound by the context of the sounds before or after them. Certain songs feel like glassy specters passing through the speakers, but Mosaics is weirdly accessible for a Circulatory System album; it’s as infectious as it is esoteric. As much as it inadvertently pushes away, at times, the album rings as intimately personal for its main songwriter.
Although Mosaics is rife with stop/starts and lyrics that read as explosions of absurdity, there’s an honesty present here that mostly cuts through the usual circus smokescreens that Elephant 6 bands employ. It’s impossible not to think that this may have to do with Hart’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis, purportedly responsible for him to brake his output in recent years. It’s been five years since Signal Morning, and the big news in the Elephant 6 camp was the resurfacing of Jeff Mangum and resurrection of Neutral Milk Hotel, but Hart was writing songs all the while (some of these tracks dating back a decade), even despite his illness. It’s great to see the troupe is touring the world with NMH, perhaps filling the Elephant 6 madcap void left by Olivia Tremor Control’s absence since Bill Doss’ death. Some of the lines on Mosaics are grounded in what could seem like a personal narrative for Hart, a first for the band. Hart is an enigmatic man—I had the pleasure of meeting him one time in Pittsburgh during the Elephant 6 surprise tour in 2008—and he played the role of jester/savant perfectly, zanily moving his limbs (perhaps to abate his MS, which was still under wraps then) while he spoke in pseudo-poetry. The Hart on his records is much in line with the Hart I met, constantly turning away while at the same time enamored with sharing. We don’t get many “I” lines on Mosaics, but a pumping heart runs beneath the music, especially at such times as when Hart declares love the reason to continue on “It’s Love”; it’s hard not to check a statement like that with what’s going on in his life. Fans of Circulatory System’s past work will not be alienated by the bits of new candor, as the cacophony of many people making many noises is still at the forefront, and there’s nothing to signify Hart commandeering the ensemble into his singular vehicle.
While it seems there is a way to get through Mosaics with Hart as the guide, it is still not an easy journey. Strong song melodies die before they get a chance to bloom, and, at times, sentiments with high potential feel yanked away, as on “Just In Time To See You All”. The album is too bloated by about three or so tracks (not terrible when you consider it is comprised of thirty-one); it’s much to take in on a single listen. But repeat listens prove rewarding. At the title track—about halfway through the album—the grander picture begins coming into focus. Mosaics definitely feels directionless at this point, but that’s not meant as a sleight. The phrase “Say goodbye,” is repeated with no end in sight—there is still about forty minutes of music left on the record. In that way, the entire album is suspended out of time, in someplace fluid where infinity encompasses sound on all directions. Hart seems aware that, on a very basic level, time is a construct created and measured by humans, but there are ways around it. The album’s freewheeling structure acts as a conduit into a world where existence doesn’t have natural boundaries of birth and death; by just existing as a document of a particular instant, one can reach out into many directions at the same time. Art doesn’t have to be fully formed in order to connect with other people. Hart seems to believe this is achievable if we just forget what we’ve been told for so long. “Open Up Your Lives” provides the deepest look inside, the one time the veil is pulled fully back to see the pulsing heart of its writer. Those feelings, big as they may seem, are all over Mosaics Within Mosaics, and the conjuring, capturing, and relaying of living within these cosmos may be the strongest act of which our flimsy flesh sacks are capable.
“If we open up this world, does it open other windows?”