The importance of Circa Survive: Aesthetic and artistic breakdown. Analogies to the story of Peter and Wendy in the Pan Universe by Quinton Mitchell.

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“Haunting us, these different meanings and spectral beings.” House of Leaves by Circa Survive

“If you allow, something so unnecessary to get you down, there’s no one else to blame.” Drug Dealer by Circa Survive

“If you could only offer love, you’d be like a drug to us, like a drug dealer” Drug Dealer by Circa Survive

Introduction: It was a few years ago, maybe around 2015, when I was at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, Georgia, seeing Circa Survive. I had seen them four times before in concert, and each time was an amazing experience, but on this night, hearing the heavy bass on their song Descensus at minute 2:41 (reminiscent of something one would find in the band Tool), where the bass was interwoven with spacey guitar work invoking the sounds of an Indian sitar, I was taken away. The bass was synced to oscillating white lights in a dark space. All the heads were bobbing in unison, feeling a part of something transcendental. It was a reminder as to why Circa Survive is one of the most important Progressive rock acts of two-thousands, arguably the progressive band for the older millennial generation. The first time I became aware of Circa Survive was in my teen years in the early two-thousands, walking around a mall and going into either a FYE music-store or Hot Topic and seeing the gothic artwork of Esao Andrews on the Juturna album in early 2005. “That looks cool” I said to my girlfriend, and she responded, “Then buy it then”.

I did not buy it though since I was a broke teenager, with enough money from allowance and fast-food job to take my girlfriend to the movies where we would mess around in the back aisles away from any parental supervision (those awkward days). Fast forward to the college days around 2008, and I downloaded Circa’s song, The Great Golden Baby, to my cellphone, which looking back looked like a brick compared to the lean devices we have today. I listened to it on repeat flying home to Georgia in the winter months from Washington State where I attended college, admiring the storytelling. “I’m going on home by own way, going home by my own”. Fast-forward again, I was already immersed in their albums by 2009, but by the twenty-teens while I served in the Air Force, living a lonely hermetic lifestyle after duty (to avoid getting into trouble), I would drink, draw, save all my money for my eventual escape towards freedom (Honorable Discharge), expand my mind, and Circa was always playing. In other words, I am sharing all these stories to convey that I grew up with Circa Survive. So many bands fizzle out and fail to adapt due to being constrained to a particular genre which are embedded within phases of peoples’ lives, etc. Further rock and roll music fell victim to its own balkanization and corporate interests intensified each genre, thus linking a genre to a certain point in time, but time goes on. Where many bands get caught up in making a specific sound thus breeding genre, if there is no intellectual depth engendering multiple interpretations from the listener, then a song won’t stick. The power of Circa Survive is they grow with their audience and their lyrics help guide the listeners, and the lyrics or hooks are brutally stunning/catchy, to the point where average listeners do not simply listen to the lyrics, they internalize the lyrics. Another kudos to Circa Survive being a progressive experimental act is that progressive music defines the norms of genre. It is bending, thus it becomes more egalitarian, whereas many rock bands I grew up with (being African American) there was a sense that rock-and-roll hand sectioned off its own market by appealing to white listeners only. This paper is not about race, but what I am saying is that experimental music sources inspiration from various traditions thus it has a likelihood of touching diverse listeners. I always say that Circa Survive is blues music despite the high-pitched enchanting voice that defines the traditional norms regarding masculinity while definitely being masculine at the same time.

Correlations and Narrative Building through Lyrics: One can easily stitch together the array of lyrics they have and notice a scene appearing such what I did below:

“Make your move, obvious humor – Always on, dressed to impress. I’ll be the last one to find out why.” The Great Golden Baby. “I’ve fixed myself up nice, but you never came.” Kicking Your Crosses Down. “That’s why you never mention my name to them?” Wish Resign. “What brought you back to this place? I knew you never learned, I you never.” Wish Resign. “Can we last through the winter? The weather is starting to freeze.” In Fear and Faith. “If I last through the winter, I swear to you know I won’t call” In Fear and Faith. “Congratulations. Go home now”, from In Fear and Faith. “Don’t go back on your words. You always said you tell me first.” We’re all Thieves. “I’ve been erased. I’ve been erased from the picture” We’re All Thieves. “Time takes its toll on us. It changes everything” The Great Golden Baby. “I already forget I how used to be without you” Meet Me in Montauk. “If you could try and get your timing right. I’ll let you stay.” Descensus. “You mean so much more to me” Meet Me in Montauk. “I won’t let it tear us apart” The Lottery. “I don’t want to feel like this. Ever, ever, ever, again” Nesting Dolls.

Aesthetic Breakdown: Off the top of my head, I consider Circa Survive to be “prog-psych-ambient-gothic (romantically dark)-hippie folk- post emo-blues rock”, where rock falls under philosophical modernism, thus being a medium that plays with boundaries while also psychoanalyzing the human condition, with a range that can be heavy, avant-garde, Lynchian (David Lynch, e.g., the film Blue Velvet or Lost Highway, i.e., surreal), mystical, romantic, jazzy, sad, and empowering. They have accomplished to make themselves the Doors of post-hardcore music but have shown paced longevity to sustain their career for their personal wellbeing but also for the satisfaction of their fanbase. Instead of creating an image and fitting into it, they disregard image, instead focusing on appearing as they are, yet treat music as an art collective for analyzing a range of subjects influenced by personal revelations within their own lives. Relating to The Doors, the cryptic lyrics of Jim Morrison, as if he were a dark harbinger of American vagabond folk soul, flowing through keyboarding of Ray Manzarek, drums of John Densmore, and guitar work of Robby Krieger, seem as if they inspired Circa Survive strongly. However, I also would sprinkle in some Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mack with her witchy folk 70s prog rock aesthetic. If Circa Survive were around during the Woodstock Area, coming from the burbs of conservative America, rocking out in garage cover bands, they would make the journey to Woodstock or out West to San Francisco, to try to showcase their music. Sprinkle in some of the Stooges, MC5, Janis Joplin, Sun Ra, and especially the blues of Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Motown, etc. In such an alternate universe, by the nineteen seventies they would have been influenced by the Anti-War and Civil Rights movements, where once can easily see them playing benefit concerts in Washington Square Park with activists and random listeners clapping and singing in unison.

Scene from David Lynch’s film, Blue Velvet, which samples the imagery of the brooding blues singer with conflict. Lynch films often deal with the inability to grasp a clear reality similarly to themes found in early Circa Survive

Relief from Grief: Circa Survive’s music is for those who wish to deal and overcome burden. By staring at the truth of oneself and pouring oneself out without shame or criticism, it is a healthy way to real self-actualization. Circa is a safe camp. Brutally and poetically emotive but constrained, focused, and arranged thus showing a sense of self-awareness, hence having the capability to have personal strength to pull oneself up. The lyrical makeup seems almost bard-like or troubadour. Some people, and some genres of music, do not teach this. They may give you the aggression and anger, but they do not show you a way out. There is no finish line. Rather, Circa Survive provides the emotive introspection but also offers the possibility of relief and acceptance. There is no issue with trying to find beauty in painful memories. For example, for me instead of saying “I was hurt”, as I came to grow, I would rather say, “I put myself in a position to be hurt, but I learned from it and retained my sense of having a moral center or compass”. “I fell a part in your arms for the last time, and I felt free because of the things of you told me” (lyric from I Felt Free on Blue Sky Noise).

Aesthetic Breakdown Continued: The band hails from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a suburb on the northern side of Philadelphia, and is consisted of Anthony Green who previously was in bands such as Saosin but has had collaborations with other bands such as The Sound of Animals Fighting and Zolof the Rock and Roll Destroyer; Brendan Ekstrom on the guitar who was a member of This Day Forward with fellow bandmate Colin Frangicetto also on the guitar; Nick Beard on the Bass Guitar and Steve Clifford on the Drums. The county has produced many local bands but was notable for being more so catered to sports, such as Central Bucks West, i.e., CB West Football, being a notable national powerhouse, particularly up to the early two-thousands. The suburbs are also near a city with a rich history of skateboarding such as Alien Workshop, Kerry Getz, and the shenanigans of Bam Margera.

Yet, back to Circa Survive, they explicitly fall under the post-hardcore genre, which as a genre leans towards progressive Do-it-Yourself humanist politics with such as that laid down by progenitors such as Black Flag, Minor Threat, Gorilla Biscuits, The Cro-mags, Fugazi, etc. For me poetics plays such a role in this sort of genre be it that of Luis Borges with The Garden of Forking Paths, which one could sense in At the Drive-In’s evolution into the Mars Volta, but there’s also inspiration I sense from poets/writers such as Frank O’Hara and Jim Carroll (East Coast), Sherwood Anderson (Midwest), Flannery O’Connor (Southeast), Raymond Carver (Northwest), Cormac McCarthy (Southwest), etc. For example, Thursday’s Geoff Rickly employs similar themes to that of Circa Survive and could be considered one of the godfathers of the modern two-thousands post-hardcore scene with his beautiful lyrics. Thursday songs such as “Where the Circle Ends” is a spoken word poem calling into question the blights of modern life and its hypocrisies such as claiming to want a better world without participating in its approval, or how urban schools go underfunded. Thursday’s song, “For the Workforce, Drowning”, Geoff makes analogies between nooses and neck ties one would wear in a stale corporate landscape, while also making baptismal allegories about washing away sins each day after coming home from a long commute, yet wails “Just keep making copies of copies, of copies, where will it end?”.  Also, Rickly with Thursday released songs such as “This Song Brought to You by a Falling Bomb” that relates the warfare of the American machine going on at the time (Iraq and Afghanistan Wars) juxtaposed against memories of lost youth under the skylines of New York. Further, Rickly employs similar trends that are found in later Circa Survive with his emphasis on lapses in memory in relation to trauma or covering up sins, which can be seen in Thursday’s songs, Tomorrow I Will be You, Cross Out the Eyes, etc. Post-hardcore music offers an outlet for male aggression but with progressive introspection, and calls into question the ills of an individualistic, one could argue fascists, capitalist system, where people deal with poverty, drug addiction, dissociation, alienation, etc.

Catholicism: Circa’s sounds to me is a confluence of factors ranging from something akin to a Jack Kerouac Catholic angelic-like inspiration in their lyrics such as “He has risen, hold me under” in the song, Stop The F-ing Car (an allusion to the film Boondock Saints, if I remember right – a film strongly influenced by Northern city Irish culture, which is a culture that is a part of the history of the Philadelphia area, and this culture is musical like other Celtic cultures), but that this particular lyrics seems to play on the act of purging in baptism, yet, the inverted statement of “hold me under” insinuates more sin to purge. Relating to Catholicism, their song, Rites to Investiture, deals with the Catholic procedure involving the order of Mass such as that after the act of homily. Lapsed faith, the conflict between dogmatic belief and personal discovery, will always be an important concept within introspective music, so the Kerouac angelic inspiration I speak of regarding Circa can also be found in Thursday songs such as “Asleep in the Chapel” on War All The Time, but also the cover art of their album, A Common Existence. Catholicism with its concepts of miracles and Saints, and its foundations from pagan Rome, gives Catholicism a mystical property involving elements such as the purification properties of water, the traces of essences, and possibility of apparitions. Since we are on the notion of religion, in which religion is often inspiration for artists, at least when pondering the philosophical puzzles of it, or pondering one’s upbringing in it, Anthony Green has something akin of a power to heal with his lyrics and live performances. It is as if he is at the head of a flock, at a sermon, where instead of Joseph’s Colorful Robe from the Bible, instead there is an electric lightshow.

Aesthetics Continued: Then there’s notions of lost memory, amnesia, with the lyric “Didn’t I Know You?” (a lyric from the song, Oh. Hello) which relates to the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind. Further, fading memory is also incorporated into the song Meet Me in Montauk, which is an obvious homage to Eternal Sunshine. One can add “I already forget I how used to be without you” from Meet Me in Montauk, or in Descensus with the lyric, “If we forget, I’ll do it all again”. You will hear some slight homages to the band Tool as far as the music (however, the cerebral nature to Circa’s work could be considered Jungian as well, i.e., playing with notions of subconsciousness, dreams, fables as allegories into a deeper human connection, etc.), maybe even a little Deftones inspiration with them as pioneers in shoegaze metal such as with their album White Pony, Radiohead, and of course Bjork (“You were in my dreams, half human, half machine” from In the Morning and Amazing, which invokes imagery to that of Bjork’s “All is Full of Love”).

The term of Post-emo I came up with (maybe it already exists? I do not know) is important here. First, by emo I do mean the branch of emotive hardcore music that derived from hardcore punk music, which arose in the late eighties before being solidified into various regional scenes (East Coast, Midwest Great Lakes, Texas) and was hovered above by the transition to introspective rock music such as that of Radiohead, Nirvana and Sunny Real Estate, but by the late nineteen nineties its influence had grown to become commercially viable as opposed to purely independent. This was emo music before the caricature that came to be by the end of the early two-thousands (my high school years). The vein of emotive and experimental hardcore music that Circa falls under is more in alignment with At the Drive In, Thursday, Glassjaw, Juliana Theory, etc. I would consider early post-emo albums to be Further Seems Forever’s underrated album, How to Start a Fire, which amplifies the blues in emo, almost relinking the blues elements in emo back to rock’s early beginnings as R&B (rhythm and blues) and soul music, but also Armor for Sleep’s What do you when are dead, which is a concept album dealing with a full storyline anchored by a main protagonist.  The album by Armor for Sleep involves the five stages of grief model (or the Kübler-Ross model) created by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross which breaks down the stages of grief as being the five emotions of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Yet, Circa is also a product of the other vein of early 2000s emo and screamo bands which were immensely popular under labels such as Victory Records, Eyeball Records, Tooth and Nail, etc. Yet, Circa was different than the Hot Topic crowd (not better, but different) even though early Circa Survive had no other place to be sold but at a Hot Topic (which isn’t an insult to Hot Topic at all), hence, I can understand how people might have overlooked the band as just another band rather than a mature art collective of musicians. I suspect being affiliated with such a specific genre caused the members of Circa Survive like some other bands to branch away from the “emo scene” or screamo/metalcore scene and transcend into the “post-“, i.e., similar aesthetics to their roots of the emo/screamo scene, but away enough to distinguish itself as different, deeper, etc. They have never been a “teenie-bopper” band and I would say the same thing for many of the bands I listed above such as the poignant lyricism of Geoff Rickly of Thursday (who collaborated with Circa Survive in their song The Lottery) whose poetics speaks to that of Frank O’Hara and Jim Carroll (author of The Basketball Diaries). Put it this way, how you can trace metal bands to either Black Sabbath (death metal, black metal, etc.), or Led Zeppelin (hair metal, arena rock), etc., in the emotive scene by the end of the nineties you either went the At the Drive-In Relationship to Command way (grimy, dark, adult) or you went the “system boy band” method.  

Analysis of the Cover Art in Relation to the Music: Four of all Circa’s main releases have included a female figure on their cover art. The first two albums Juturna and On Letting Go, the fourth album, Violent Waves, and their 2018 release of The Amulet, feature a female figure, yet I could consider the first three albums (Juturna, On Letting Go, Blue Sky Noise) to linearly be a continuous concept album, with Violent Waves and The Amulet being continuation of this female character’s story-line (and her male companion’s – presumably the narrator, i.e., Green is speaking most from his experiences). Concept albums are a concept notable in progressive music, e.g., Pink Floyd’s The Wall, King Crimson, Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Llyod Webber, etc.

Juturna and Mythology: On the cover of their first album, Juturna, we see a faceless woman being sucked up into the air, floating towards something unknown, gravitating off the ground in which the picture includes a decrepit stone building with rusted iron fence, and some sort of dead plant or weed too. Leaving a dead garden. Juturna in Roman mythology is the goddess of wells, springs, and fountains, and the mother of Fontus (a god too of wells and springs), and husband to Janus. Water is indicative of a life source and cleansing force. Janus is where the name of modern month of January comes from, where January is the opening or beginning of the new year.  These roman deities were involved in the Mithraism mystery (gnostic) religions of Rome (a onetime competitor to early Christianity), in with the Cult of Mithra was inspired by Zoroastrian thought, in which Zoroastrian thought from Persia – having influenced Greco-Roman thought- involved the sacredness of magi, i.e., magicians, i.e., the foundation of Western magic and later Neoplatonism such as Christian Kabbalistic practice. Mysticism of the Greco-Roman world was a melting pot influences having inspiration in the sacredness of Egypt, proximity of the Levant and Anatolia (Hittites, Phoenicians, Canaanites, Jews), The Middle East such as Babylon, Persia, but also nomadic traditions of the Steppes. Neoplatonism of the Roman Era was a framework created by Plotinus who built upon the esoteric teachings of Plato, and his framework was based on the idea that there are different levels of reality, in which all reality permeates from a source called The One, yet, is controlled by the Demiurge (the creator), and our reality as humans are on the border between the higher spiritual realm and the lower material realm. By engaging in ceremonial practices such as what would later come around such as the practice of Hermeticism, one can tap into higher levels of being or consciousness. Yet, since there is no agreed upon framework as far as ceremony, Neoplatonism has often been seen as occultist or Gnostic in nature, with many frameworks going as far as not believing in the trinity of God within Christian dogma. I am not saying that Circa Survive is by any means a Gnostic band, yet there is something magical or incantation-like about their work.  

Juturna Cover Art Return: The woman in Esao’s cover art (https://esao.net) is feminine with wavy black hair, a beautiful yet subtle dress, but there is something sickly too about her. Who is she? She seems as if she could have been the quiet introspective daughter from a well-to-family, the type who looks down in photographs, always picking at her skin, despite having a natural beauty indicating “good stock”. She is floating from a once lush Victorian garden now turned into a barren waste indicating this place was once happy but is no more, and her floating seems to indicate a break from reality or being drawn which is translated as being from a supernatural force out of her control but in which her actions caused. She is our Alice, but this is no Wonderland. This is gothic. Beautiful and dark. The goddess Juturna and her relation to Janus seems to mean that the album is about entering a new door or gateway of cleansing and renewal, i.e., the girl we see on Circa Survive’s album art is on a surrealist and magical journey towards possible sobriety and finding her center (ground, footing, bearing) again.

The Female Figure on the cover art to On Letting Go and Violent Waves: The same female figure of Juturna appears on Circa Survive’s second album, On Letting Go, yet her head has been replaced by a hot air balloon. It is not that she is an “air head” but seems to indicate that on her journey she is now having to confront the thoughts in her head, the thing which inflates (burns) our minds to begin with. Memories. She is letting go of her past.

On Circa’s fourth album, Violent Waves, we see the same female possibly, having “landed” in some sort of MC Escher room which is being flooded, yet also being stalked by some sort of surreal jackal-like animal. What does this mean? We know where she came from, but now it seems she is landed back to a place where her memories were crafted (her trauma) and the water she brings or emanates is cleansing the structure (her life, her past), yet this jackal-like figure seems to be something lurking (a corrupting like character). The female character is also glowing, illuminating with sort of ectoplasmic (ghostly) aura, denoting to me that she may have found a sense of power of some sort, i.e., the courage to confront. The color palette of the jackal by Esao is similar to that of other shapes that appear such as those on the hot-air balloon of On Letting Go, which to me means the jackal is part of the same surreal fabric of the universe in the which the journey is undergoing, and is a representation of something or someone bad that “haunts the halls” of the female protagonist mind, yet it’s being cleansed by the mystical force of water. 

The Art Work of Esao Andrew: The artwork of Esao Andrews could almost be defined as “punk gothic”, respectfully speaking (this is me attempting to find the most relatable term for the reader) with Victorian and Edwardian influences likely mixed with his modern influences of Southwest skater and street culture, and it is more subtle than something you find in a Tim Burton film, but invokes the same gothic appeal that mixes morbidity with romanticism. He masterfully uses oil paints on panel or wood.  In an interview with Fireside Tattoo Network (2019), Esao stated he partially inspired by Egon Schiele, like another artists I enjoy in Peter Chung, cover-work from the band The Pixies, but also comic book artist, Al Columbia. The differences between dreams and nightmares are what you make of them and how you interpret them. The song, The Glorious Nosebleed, was inspired by a cartoon book by Edward Gorey who was an artist specializing is surrealist dark childhood fiction. I am not sure if Circa Survive such as Anthony Green were aware of Gorey before meeting Esao or if Esao’s influences were shared with Circa, yet both the band and Esao seem to have gravitated towards each other with a mutual interest of things that are surreally gothic and romantically macabre.

Gothic inspirations: Gothic, outside of art, as a literary genre was a reactionary movement to the cherry romanticism of the Victorian Era, thus it dealt with death, decay, loss, angst about the soon to be gone “spiritual world” to that of the modern industrial, etc. One could say that Gothic fiction was about reminding us of our metaphysical possibilities in the face of the growing materialism. The genre was particularly popular in both American and English fiction, but as far as America it was firmly implanted during and after the Civil War, which subsequently coincided and birth of the American spiritualist movements. The Civil War was the conflict which saw countless deaths in a struggle that called the nation’s very soul into question. All that death challenged perceptions, but also created movements where people sought a belief in otherworldly things, and this gave rise to ghost stories, beliefs in specters, seances, etc. When we think about the Civil War, the self-created historical revisionism of the Confederacy takes more a visual space, yet, the Northern Union is where interesting things we happening, such as the abolitionist movement, the transcendental movement with thinkers like Henry David Thoreau or Ralph Waldo Emerson, etc.

Photo of Union Soldiers from New York. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/505599495648975347/
Poe
Example of Gothic inspired American architecture

Interestingly, Circa Survive, being from Pennsylvania, is where the Battle of Gettysburg happened, and the war itself, remember – influencing American Gothic -, inspired writers such Ambrose Bierce, the author of surrealist short stories such as An Occurrence at Owl Creek (later turned into a classic episode of the Twilight Zone), where a many, supposedly a deserter, is about to hanged from a railroad bridge, yet, seemingly escapes and finds himself almost into the loving embrace of his family, yet, right as he approaches his family, his body is dropped and hanged. This story deals with memories, romance, death, etc. And of course, before Ambrose Bierce, there was the one and only Edgar Allen Poe (one could even say Washington Irving before him with tales such as the Legend of Sleepy Hollow or Rip Van Winkle), whose life coincided with the quick foundational growth of America as a soon to be economic juggernaut. The time of Poe’s life was in a transitional moment of American culture, where America was a mix of both Eastern seaboard elitism descended from our once English overlords as wealthy families of Boston Brahmin or Dutch Knickerbocker stock made fortunes off still Indian owned resources (“Cause it’s all built upon a burial ground,” lyric from Frozen Creek by Circa), but also the harshness of the frontier. The era as America’s colonial (iconic) tradition transferred towards something mimicking “modern” started during the Era of Good Feelings, which lasted from 1817-1825. The Era of Good Feelings involved a reinvigorated sense of American pride after the War of 1812, the foundation of Manifest Destiny, conflicts with Indian tribes of the plains, treaties with the British and others over land and borders, but culturally speaking the foundation of American culture diverging from English culture. Yet, there was always a dark and gothic sentiment to the architecture, the fashion, etc. It easy to envision Anthony Green as a fresh-off-the-boat Irish immigrant or second-generation American singing around a Union Camp fire as he ponders the truths of the human condition.

Poe’s life basically aligned with creation of the American Way of life, where the American perception is both inspiring, with its vast expanses of untamed land, but also a harsh place such as what one could have easily found on the frontier but also in disease ridden port cities of the coast such as his home of Baltimore, Maryland (interesting fact, Baltimore’s Salad Days Studios is where Juturna was recorded under the direction of Brian McTernan, with the name Salad Days coming from hardcore pioneer band, Minor Threat).  To link Ambrose Bierce, Poe, and gothic romanticism further to Circa, to me, Circa’s roots in the coldness of the East Coast is a foundational element to their music. Circa’s music is influenced by the seasonal changes of New England, with its deciduous forests, leaves, etc.

Minor Threat before Ian MacKaye branched off to create Fugazi, an instrumental band in post hardcore and emotive hardcore

Listen to the opening effects of Holding Someone’s Hair Back, and once can easily relate the spacey effects to that of crystalline white snow falling on a field near an old New England colonial farmhouse, a house in which poetry is about to the read. Snow, just like Gothicism, is both beautiful and harsh in that it represents the death of the seasons but also the renewal of life, e.g., the lyric from In The Morning And Amazing, “From winter brings the spring again”.  One can easily image fall time on the Eastern seaboard where leaves are being burned, such as “Smoke’s filled the air and I’m struggling to breathe” from the song, We’re All Thieves.

This gothic element within music such as Circa Survive can also be found in other experimental music projects such Have a Nice Life, where in the song Bloodhail, the singer refers to arrowheads, which to me invokes imagery of the once rich Native culture such as that of the Algonquin, Mohican, etc., of New England before their demise, and one could even say their legacy still has a haunting effect. Another act from New England, from Pennsylvania like Circa Survive, is Planning for Burial, in which one-man show Thom Wasluck mixes post-punk, black metal, shoegaze, and others to weave a mood that paints tales of emotion, pain, and love in New England landscapes. His albums such as Matawan – Collected works from 2018 inspires the strong Native American roots of New England, his 2017 album Below the House seems to relate to romantic tensions living in a dreary landscape, and his 2020 release When Summer Turns to Fall has no words but it is a classically inspired minimalist song that inspires a sense of Walden by Thoreau.  

Cover Art of Blue-Sky Noise: The only male figure as far as artwork is depicted on Blue Sky Noise. We see a young man who is wearing a tunic thus indicating some Roman about him, thus relating his depiction to the Greco-Roman mystical (Mithraic) inspirations I spoke about earlier. If the other albums mentioned above are about a female character, this male character on Blue Sky Noise could possibly be an iteration of her significant other, who too is dealing with issues of trauma, e.g., drug abuse.

Around the male figures head is both a halo, indicating sanctity, but the same shame also is part of a monstrous creature’s mouth which is filled with sharp teeth. This creature has the body of some sort of ram or sheep, or an equine of some sort, but the imagery to me relates to the lower half the satyr creature from mythology. This creature as a nature spirit in Greek mythology known for their Dionysian behavior of drinking and womanizing, indicating this monstrous animal on the cover art for Circa Survive, who also holds a music horn, is the allure of a fast lifestyle. The creatures wing I honestly cannot make much of but can only relate it to the mystical like elements of this creature, i.e., mystical things typically have wings so why think too much into it, yet the wings could represent being “high” or “speed”. In addition, a prism of light is coming out of this creature’s flesh which I translate as meaning the illumination that drugs can bring physically, i.e., tripping. In other words, this once saint boy or young man is surrounded by a fast lifestyle in which the creature (addiction) has the capability of luring one in while also destroying someone.

Status of Peter Pan

The male figure in the art also has a right arm which is deformed in some way, which to me insinuates drug abuse by injection, i.e., opioids. This art is a surrealist interpretation of a good person who has fallen victim to the allure of a lifestyle in which hardcore drug use has suspended him in an otherworldly state where monsters surround him.

On Love: The common theme is Circa’s earlier albums was a bond between a man and woman both dealing with some sort of trauma, yet Anthony Green’s brilliance is he does not shy away from this darkness, but by confronting it, he is able to write beautiful lyrics towards a path to light. That is the appeal. He is not messing around. He is not lying. He is staring things in the face. He is taking accountability for his actions and grew from those actions.

Peter Pan, Wendy, and Other Visual Relations: A visual that inspires this male and female in a dire situation of addiction is the short film/music video, Sigur Rós: Fjögur piano released in 2012 which featured Shia LeBeouf and Denna Thomsen. The music video by Alma Har’el, depicts two lovers turned drug addicts who are in a conflicted relationship yet still have a sense of love and memories of better times, but both have an antagonist with a surrealist drug dealer. These visuals seem very in alignment with Circa Survive, yet the albums I am most referring to (Juturna, On Letting Go, and Blue Sky Noise) were all released before the Sigur Ros video. I am unsure if Alma Har’el was inspired by Circa, yet, both the Sigur Ros video and Circa’s content remind me of the story of Wendy and Peter Pan in the Pan Universe by author J.M. Barrie, whom interestingly was born in the Victorian Era, and was in the literally circles of other gothic writers such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes, i.e., the creator of the modern mystery crime genre).

https://vimeo.com/44767537. Stills are from Sigur Ros (c). All Rights are reserved to the original artists and sharing this is for educational purposes.

The time that J.M. Barrie was living was the zenith of the British Empire so there were many cosmopolitan influences making their way back to Britain such as those of India, thus the British elite were mixing English Romantic imagery such as those of John William Waterhouse (his emphasis on Arthurian-like imagery) with that of the ancient mysticism of Hindu India or China and even Africa, so these foreign mystical influences inspired Gothic romanticism (yet, also did drugs, such as that of opium which was legal at the time and pure Absinthe made from wormwood, i.e., the urban legend of the “Green Fairy”). This sort of cosmopolitan influence also influenced French art such as what would become Art Nouveau.  

The characters in Circa Survive’s albums to me are Peter and Wendy who forgot Neverland due to coming to the real world or are real people within the real world trying to find Neverland. For example, there are two cover arts associated with Violent Waves. The first was spoken about above in which the female character is in a house somewhere that seems to be a manifestation of her memories, yet another cover has a ship floating atop a planet or orb or some sense, where this orb has a similar color palette to that of other Circa Esao works. The ship is important because it relates to the Jolly Roger of Captain Hook from the Pan universe.

Art Work for the 2015 film Pan by directed by Joe Wright

I prefer for this paper to entertain the concept idea of Peter and Wendy lost in the modern world and who are suffering from amnesia about Neverland. I imagine them living in a dingy apartment, scrapping by, yet both are recovering addicts, and they lost a sense of light, but are on a mission to re-obtain it. Yet, there are evil characters such as a Captain Hook-like person who is analogous to a drug dealer. Lost Boys could represent “street kids”, who are not bad at all, but trying to survive in a harsh environment, this analogy I’m making about Lost Boys relates to the lyric from the British band, Bloc Party, where in their song, The Good News, states, “Throwing down with all the lost boys at the very edge of town”.

Tinker Bell could represent something mixed in that she is not bad, yet she wants to “keep the party alive”, i.e., keep Peter in particular young. A nymph like creature for mythology, who can promise eternal life, but nothing is without a cost. Peter as the male character for this Circa Survive analogy is a person who has a hard time growing up, i.e., avoids responsibility, whereas Wendy grew up too fast, so there is an opposite attraction to each other, where Peter’s innocence (despite his issues) is a light, whereas Wendy’s maturity and strength is a power. Yet, Wendy is very central to the story, even going so far as having to process the trauma of losing a child, such as in the lyrics of Frozen Creek, but also having dealt with assault, i.e., “She’s got the photos but no reflection, He’s got the motive but no transportation”.

This dynamics between my “Circa Survive Peter and Wendy” story-line is that it would create a powerful story line in that both male and female protagonists are both strong and central, who show levels of courage and vulnerability.

Author: This is is me. Circa Fan. Blogger as a hobby. BA from Saint Martin’s University. MS from Embry Riddle Aeronautics. Always thinking outside the box. A fan of East Coast falls.

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