“You gotta hear this one song. It’ll change your life, I swear.”
~ Natalie Portman, handing Zach Braff her headphones
For those of us who ardently believe in the immense power of music, hearing this line uttered on the big screen in 2004 was a moment.
A real kick in the, um, shins.
Because beyond friendship, family, and nature, there might be nothing on earth that shapes the contours of a human soul more than music. For me, it is the most potent art form. So much so that it has painted every vista I’ve discovered, and even blazed (or altered) the paths that have escorted me to those vistas.
Music has changed my life.
Every chapter of my story is built around the music I loved during that moment in time. And when I think of the defining moments that have comprised my 30s and early 40s, one band has delineated the trajectory of my personal saga more than any other.
That band is Caspian. An instrumental/art/hard rock 5-piece (formerly a 6-piece) from Beverly, Massachusetts. A band of brothers. Intrepid pioneers of a potent genre of music that has, perhaps to its ultimate benefit, never hit the mainstream.
A group of guys otherwise known, to me and quite a few others, as *clears throat portentously* the greatest band on planet Earth.
I discovered Caspian in 2009 when a random guy who I randomly (and briefly) worked with at a college newspaper near the Flatiron foothills in Boulder, Colorado not-so-randomly burned a few discs for me. One of which was The Four Trees by Caspian.
As soon as I laid ears on that album, I realized I had found something I’d long been looking for. Ever since I discovered music on my own, beyond the borrowed tastes that were pressed upon me by my high school friends or my youth pastor or my older brothers, I had been on a quest. From the age of 17 onward, I did everything I could to seek out and orchestrate a score for my life that was all my own.
But it wasn’t until I was 29 ½ and found Caspian’s early catalogue that I truly possessed the material to create the backbone of my motion picture soundtrack.
Caspian is well-loved (by its fans), but not well-known. It tends to be classified under the “post-rock” banner, a niche genre. And even for the nicheans themselves, the label itself has grown stale.
I mean, it’s dramatic instrumental rock. No vocals. But sometimes, there are vocals. And sometimes, it’s not rock. So what even is it? All I can say is: You know it when you hear it. Or more accurately: You feel it.
Having said that, Caspian has long since outgrown their prior classification. They started out as the most promising post-rock band since Mogwai, quickly evolved into the best post-rock band in the genre (in my admiration-addled view), and then just kept evolving way out beyond the property line of the genre’s backyard, into an expansive open range. Out into mountains and meadows of their own making.
After the stunning opening salvo of You Are the Conductor and The Four Trees, in 2009 they crafted their magnum opus, Tertia. All 3 albums contained blistering rock overlaid with aching beauty. Moments that twist your heart into knots, and moments that melt your face off your skull.
Caspian then released one of the most buoyant spring/summer albums ever (Waking Season), followed by one of the most mournful fall/winter albums ever (Dust and Disquiet), the latter of which represented the long, dark shadow of a tragic loss. The echo of an abyss, reverberating under a dark field.
Then, after a sabbatical of sorts, they reinvented the wheel with On Circles. Its 8 songs were entirely distinct from each other and from everything else they had ever written. One of them was the most layered and profound track that Caspian ever recorded, a song that is even more rewarding on its 50th listen. “Division Blues” quickly became my haunting anthem for this divisive, blues-inducing era.
To support their newest album, Caspian kicked off a truly epic North American tour, supported by some of their favorite bands. And then Covid decimated it with impunity, banishing Caspian and everyone else to a year and a half of shuttered tour dates, ravaged budgets, and forced hibernation.
The setback was brutal and the loss, to Caspian and to every other working-class musical artist, was incalculable.
But you can’t keep a good band down. And Caspian reemerged in late 2021 and 2022 to shred eardrums and make up for lost time. I saw them play 2 nights in Boston, 1 night in Detroit, and once had tickets to see them in Philadelphia but was myself decimated with impunity (and horrific timing) by Covid.
I have driven a long way, and would drive even longer, to see these guys on stage. These guys being, namely, Phil and Cal (the OG founding members, electrifying guitarists, and among the true-bluest and least ego-driven human beings I know), Jonny “Thrashburn” (a gentleman, a scholar, an artisan, and a badass guitarist), Jani (a masterful photographer and soft-spoken stick of dynamite rocking the monster bass riffs), and Justin (a musical craftsman and Renaissance man who pummels the skins with great ferocity). Former band members Chris, Joe, and Erin each live with the band in spirit too, expanding their mythology and making them somehow feel like an 8-piece.
I could try to describe what their music sounds like, or what it sparks in my soul, but I’m not sure that words are the best implements for such a task. Even though I’ve strung together over 1,000 of them here, it feels like I have 10,000 more left unstrung.
But to understand Caspian, as with all great music, you simply have to listen. (After all, as the maxim goes, writing about music is like dancing about architecture.) Even though over 90% of Caspian’s songs have no lyrics, I’m not sure any band’s music has ever spoken to me so clearly.
Caspian is the band, above all others, that has shaped my life. Their music makes me want to be creative. It makes me feel alive. It makes me want to be a better human being.
It makes me want to headbang so hard that I briefly ascend to another plane of consciousness.
And on some level, Caspian’s music just… makes me.
One thought on “It’ll Change Your Life, I Swear”
Sounds like (see what I did there?) music has had the effect on your life that plants/gardening had on mine. And let me just say, based on my lifetime experience in, well, everything I’ve experienced, that no; there is nothing wrong with you. Some folks find that one thing (or person or whatever) that moves them profoundly, and some don’t. And everything you’ve built your life around – your wife, your kids – is better and richer than they would have been if you’d never enriched your life with Caspian. Just as my life, with my beloved wife and daughter, is better and richer because of me accidentally and without intending it becoming a gardener. Our pots of gold were very different, Jeremy, but they’ve enriched our lives by making us better/happier/more giving people.
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