Dispatch – Circles Around the Sun
by Cara McGrath (Graphic Design), published September 3rd 2012
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Before I listened to Dispatch’s newest release, I had hoped to give it a five-star review. For years, a fan base that primarily grew post-breakup (this fan included) had only dreamed of the reunion of the trio that has been called “the biggest band nobody’s ever heard of.” Brad Corrigan, Pete Francis, and Chadwick Stokes all spent time on independent musical projects; finally, in 2011 the trio released an EP and began touring, officially reuniting as Dispatch. As this is the first LP in over a decade from one of my all-time favorite bands, I had great expectations for Circles Around the Sun. While CATS is undoubtedly a great album, I have unfortunately involuntarily held Dispatch to higher standards than most.
Although I can happily listen to Silent Steeples (1996) and Bang Bang (1998) without skipping a single track, CATS reveals somewhat weak points in its final two tracks: “We Hold A Gun” and “Feels So Good.” That is not to say that these songs are bad; they are just relatively boring and unambitious compared to many of Dispatch’s earlier masterpieces, or even the gems found earlier on in the album. Even though “We Hold A Gun” is far from my favorite track, I must praise the trio for their beautiful harmonies and for the explosive climax.
Looking past the album’s weaker moments, the remaining tracks are fantastic, and are able to almost completely redeem the album. The opening title track, a song recounting the legend of the band’s friend Larry Perry, could arguably be one of Dispatch’s best songs to date. With its hand-clapping and foot-stomping beat, along with Brad’s rarely-unveiled harmonica playing, “Circles Around the Sun” sets a high bar for what is to come from CATS and Dispatch’s future releases.
Two more upbeat tracks follow: “Not Messin’” and “Get Ready Boy.” “Not Messin’” is the first single and the album’s most unique track, showing off the band’s versatility a little bit more than any other tune. It starts with an eerie 17-second intro, followed by a heavy riff and hip-hop qualities throughout, including fast-paced lyrics and Brad’s beat boxing. The lyrics of “Get Ready Boy” are from the point of view of a leaf. This sounds silly, but leave it to Chad to write an absolutely beautiful song about a leaf soaring “back to the ground [it] came from.” Rather than portraying the fall from the tree as its death, it is depicted as the moment that the leaf has waited for its entire life. My only complaint about this song is its production; the harmonies sound somewhat strange and overproduced, while it can be agreed upon that extra help is not necessary for any of these singers’ voices. “Get Ready Boy” and others on the album with almost a pop-production feel such as “Never or Now” will undoubtedly translate more successfully on stage.
Three other notable songs are “Josaphine,” “Flag,” and “Sign of the Times.” The bluesy, folky qualities of “Josaphine” along with the superb songwriting and obvious catchiness make it an instant fan favorite. The call-and-response singing in the chorus of “Flag” is reminiscent of that in “Steeples,” a classic from the band’s debut album. And the percussion heard in “Sign of the Times,” though subtle, is the best on the album, especially the bongos and cymbals.
Except for the always successful harmonies, shining brightest on “Never or Now,” the album’s sound overall is hardly similar to their early acoustic work. However, it does not stray shockingly far from Who Are We Living For? (2000). The major difference is that CATS has a much bigger and fuller sound that is particularly heard in “Circles Around the Sun,” “Get Ready Boy” and “Never or Now.” Even “Josaphine,” one of the album’s mellower, simpler tracks, would be out of place in the trio’s earlier albums because of the keys and the less raw feel.
Circles Around the Sun is a good release for Dispatch overall. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to come together after such a long hiatus and completely please fans, regardless of the quality of the album produced. I suppose that I was hoping for every single track on the album to be a grand slam. While I’m aware that this was an unrealistic wish, I couldn’t help but be overly optimistic about the band’s reunion. Overall, this collection of homeruns and base hits is pretty great even if it does not 100% meet my inflated expectations.
Recommended Tracks: Circles Around The Sun, Not Messin’, Josaphine, Never or Now