Over the past ten years, Circa Survive has held the torch for the post-hardcore realm. They’ve toured with Thrice, Coheed and Cambria, Saves the Day, Dredg, Minus the Bear, and The Used, to name a few. They’ve outlasted bands in their realm, such as Thursday, The Receiving End of Sirens, Fear Before (the March of Flames), Dear and the Headlights, and My Chemical Romance. And they’ve even given voice to lesser-known artists with opening acts like Good Old War, Foxy Shazam, Touché Amoré, Balance and Composure, Now, Now, O’Brother, and Portugal. The Man.
Circa Survive is also frontman Anthony Green’s longest lasting group. For a man that appears to be everywhere, from The Sound of Animals Fighting, to Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer, to his solo projects, and to wherever Saosin is at these days, it’s the one project of his that has remained stable. For all five founding members of Circa Survive to remain in the band for an entire decade is quite an admirable task that truly shows their unity and dedication to making music together. It’s a feat that very few bands can say they’ve done. Earlier this year, they released a 7-inch vinyl record split with emo pioneers Sunny Day Real Estate, which was their first recording in fourteen years.
Now, with Circa Survive’s fifth album, Descensus, slated for release on November 24, I want to share what I consider to be the ten essential Circa Survive tracks. The list is ordered chronologically, and isn’t necessarily my favorite ten songs, but the songs I believe best define Circa Survive’s journey thus far. Hopefully this list can be for new fans to get to the core of what makes them so special and for old fans to re-experience these defining songs (and likely dispute a few).
“In Fear and Faith” (Juturna) From the opening sharp chords to the first lines, “Can we last through the winter / the water’s starting to freeze,” “In Fear and Faith” is an instantly recognizable Circa Survive classic. It’s riddled with sarcastic phrases, a hint of emo, and builds up to an effective punch with Anthony Green repeating, “It’s too late.” In fact, it’s one of those great Circa songs that at its core is ridiculously depressing, but yelling it out loud in a crowd of fans is one of the happiest and uniting experiences you can have. Who can’t relate to the wonderfully bitter lyric, “I never wanted a partner / and I never loved you / now you are free to leave”?
“Stop the F-in’ Car” (Juturna) “Stop the F-in’ Car” is one of the most bizarre and darkest Circa songs. It’s difficult to know if there is a chorus or if there are three choruses. The stark guitars change direction so frequently, and, yet, it all comes together. It highlights drummer Steve Clifford, with some of his quickest and most skillful playing. It even emphasizes just how creepy and odd Green can get with his pen, especially when he sings, “Cut me gently, cut me out of mind.” This track is essential in Circa’s capability to not conform to typical song structures, while at the same time becoming infectious.
“Meet Me in Montauk” / “House of Leaves (Hidden Track)” (Juturna) With the obvious nod to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, “Meet Me in Montauk” is a stand-alone, album-closing track off of Juturna. It’s an odd, less than two-minute song that captures Green’s self-deprecation in correspondence with the movie’s plot, which is about two characters trying to re-start their relationship after they’ve erased their memories of one another. “You’d mean so much more to me / if I remembered.” Even the recording is muffled and much different from the rest of the album. The song is eerie and opens up with whistling, and ends with a sharp cut as if interrupted by a film slate or the end of a roll of film.
On record, “Meet Me in Montauk” appears to be the almost fifteen minutes in length, because it contains the seven-minute hidden track, “House of Leaves.” The title is based off one of the most horrifying pieces of fiction in modern literature, and the song contains that grim atmosphere. It starts off very soft, with piercing guitar work and Green weaving in an out of the vocals like he just awoke from a dream or a drug-induced euphoria. He slowly drifts into a darker state of mind as he sings, “I’ve been lying wide awake / paralyzed by the buzzing of the television.” As the song carries along, its once soft appearance quickly dilutes to a haunting tone, accompanied with chaotic guitars and Green’s vocals echoing and collapsing into the noise. Green’s vocals are mimicked backwards, as if trapped in a paralyzing, limitless room.
“The Difference Between Medicine and Poison is in the Dose” (On Letting Go) If “Stop the F-in’ Car” is Circa excelling at non-traditional song lineage, then “The Difference Between Medicine and Poison is in the Dose” is Circa perfecting the traditional. What’s even better is Circa lyrically mimics typical songwriting: “Move one inch at a time / don’t make shit rhyme. / Would it be easy to repeat the first line?” It packs one of the first huge choruses of Circa’s career thus far. It set them apart as a post-hardcore band that could write a catchy hook, while at the same time wanting to pour your eyes out over the teeming emotion. The chorus ends with Green reaching new highs vocally as he yells, “I can’t be honest with even myself / did you ever wish you were somebody else?”
“Your Friends Are Gone” (On Letting Go) “And all your friends are gone / nobody hears you / And all your friends were wrong / nobody cares,” are the closing lyrics to On Letting Go. It is an incredibly stark and sullen ending to an album. It’s Circa in their most fragile state. They shed through their layers, exposing their wounds, their guilt, their anguish, and it all ends with Circa emptying out their souls until there is nothing left. The song itself goes through several different outputs of intensity, to finally culminating and then drifting back down. If the album artwork of a hot air balloon is indicative of the album’s mood, then this song is the build-up of too much oxygen that it pops.
“Get Out” (Blue Sky Noise) Back in 2010, Circa released “Get Out” as the first single off Blue Sky Noise and no one was prepared for its sheer intensity. It’s one of the few Circa tracks that packs an unrelenting punch from start to finish. The guitars build and build to tremendous depths, and Nick Beard’s bass rips open the song and ultimately propels it forward. There is even a moment when the music stops and Green wails, “Locked myself up in a room without a window,” and it’s astounding how powerful that moment is. “Get Out separated Circa from the pact. Each member showcases their incredible talent, while also working together as a singular unit. It also works well as a closing track for live shows, which I think Anthony Green has too much fun with.
“Spirit of the Stairwell” (Blue Sky Noise) Featuring a sentimental piano, an acoustic guitar, and an electric oscillating guitar, “Spirit of the Stairwell” is Circa tuned down and unguarded. With the majority of their songwriting pertaining to broad themes or existential ideas, these lyrics are specific and pure. The song came out very close to Green’s wife’s miscarriages, and the lyrics don’t shy away from it: “I’d be terrified if I had to leave this place today / We haven’t saved the baby.” It’s a song of desperation and deep, personal pangs. It’s unique, too, because it’s about how a band, that vehemently is anti-organized-religion, deals with loss and how to find comfort without a god.
“Every Way” (Appendage EP) The Appendage EP was Circa’s last release on Atlantic Records, their first EP featuring the whole band, and their last release before going down the DIY route. It was a curious time with a lot of changes for Circa Survive, and they channel this energy and disparate feelings beautifully into “Every Way.” It opens with a sinister electronic grating, but turns pleasant with some high-pitched guitars. The huge chorus kicks the song onto another platform with the words “every way you wonder if you’re wrong.” It’s a self-reflective piece about the band as a whole and they aren’t trying to mask their woes; it’s simply the way it is, and it’s enlightening. Anthony Green lets us into his mind with the lyrics, “Inaccurate and imprecise / there is no gift without a price. / I’m so mistaken, lost my direction / my souls been shaken.”
“Birth of the Economic Hit Man” (Violent Waves) With Violent Waves being Circa’s first self-produced and self-released album, it was an exciting yet ambiguous time for fans. However, the first track on Violent Waves, “Birth of the Economic Hit Man” proves Circa’s unflinching capabilities at expanding their sound into an epic seven minute long opening. It’s their bravest track to date, and it showcases their intricate weaving of their instruments. The track isn’t simply a standard song stretched to be seven minutes; it’s experimental and fully recognized. It’s them taking a step back and reflecting on themselves as artists: “Maybe we have to / forget everything we learned / about where we came from / to find out where we need to go.” They’re trying to find themselves or, rather, trying to reconcile with who they were and where they want to be. They’re trying to find their footing and become their own pioneers. The pre-chorus is vital, with Green singing “we must learn to be lost graciously.” Circa invites their listeners along for the journey; a journey with a direction, but no destination.
“Bird Sounds” (Violent Waves) “Bird Sounds” is a special Circa Survive cut that is intrinsically satisfying. It features melodic strings from guitarists Colin Frangicetto and Brendan Ekstrom. It’s a genuinely pleasing track that teeters the line carefully to not become too sappy or forced, especially for a band that is known for its depressing and weighted sounds. The hopefulness is instilled when Green sings “No one should have to live with this much stress / killing yourself trying to live.” The chorus, too, is freeing: “And every morning I begin my dreams when I’m awake / every bird sounds a reminder / you’re not awake at all.” Although these lyrics could be taken in a negative, ignorant manner, the surrounding music roots it in bliss. It’s contagiously upbeat, and a peculiar Circa essential.