Back in 2002, you knew this group knew how to make music. It’s not picking up a guitar, writing a song, and performing. They could move venues-which was easy back then when it was VFWs and roller rinks. Then others noticed to the point they were called out to California and, honestly it would be hard competition against them, won the 2005 Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands. The trumpets and parades were silenced, however, soon thereafter when everything slowly dissipated and practically disappeared. What was left? “Whatever happened to”s. That was it…
Five years following 2004’s Commitment, the proper first release after their self-titled 2002 EP, the Culpa stirred back to life on the internet. Rumors swirled for years prior, and January 2010 saw the “I don’t believe it…” hushed new full-length release of Sever Your Roots. Really, it was disbelief. Why all this? They came from the same area that gave us Smoking Popes, then Alkaline Trio. This was the next natural progression for independent music in the Chicago suburbs, which in turn drove Chicago punk and gave us the gamut of (ugh) Fall Out Boy and (yay) Rise Against. With “Our Holy Ghosts” streaming off of their MySpace shortly after the announcement, all was to be forgiven January 23rd, 2010. It was a 6:17 rekindling, tapping deep into the vein of the previous “Fallingstarroutine” and “The Apartment.” On first listen, even sickness couldn’t steal the chorus, “To be in love with love is not enough this time,” from your head. If you did, Marky carved it back into your memory in pleading the following:
You did what you had to do to prove to me that we just don’t exist,
And I never took the time to apologize for what I chose to miss.
My dear, if there’s one bloom here in the roses in our frozen garden then,
All the stars that fell from our hands will land and thaw the earth to bloom again.
Sever Your Roots starts with “New Home Life,” introducing the album through mono airwaves. As Marky’s lyrics unroll, it becomes evident the band recognizes many mistakes, be it personal or musical, and is coming to terms with them in order to progress. “And maybe this time, I’ll know better…” Joel’s drumming, which is always heavy and calculated, brings the song into piano-puncutated stereo. What continues is typical of The Felix Culpa, long melodic orchestrations that, unlike their kin 30 Seconds to Mars, has no qualms about using the rare instrument of silence or simplicity. Halfway through “New Home Life” depicts this, using a simple railroad conversation, practically unintelligible save the recorded conductor announcing “Now approaching, Palatine” on the Union Pacific Northwest Line.
“The Conductor” follows “Our Holy Ghosts”, a call for calm despite slugging bass from Tristan dropping the floor into post-hardcore guitar dueling between Marky and lead guitarist Dustin. The troughs and rises, while frequent, rest inconsistent in helping the unaccustomed get through the progressive rock forays. They do it well with better pacing than Coheed & Cambria. Added intermissions of songs are the revitalizing doses. At first, the battered twang of “Roots” and the electronic dabbling of “Unwriting Our Songs” are off-setting. Although listen upon listen, they prove to be refreshing rest stops on through their tumultuous terrain.
The Culpa’s fusillades have improved, albeit moved slightly away from punk as was on “A Murderer,” retaining much of the guitar salvos over more complicated bass, drums or added instrumentation as on “The First One to the Scene of the Accident Always Gets Blood on Their Hands.” “Because This is How We Speak” evokes Commitment’s “Bad Actors,” never a negative, but confidently using chorused “Wohs” more reminiscent of pop rock. And it doesn’t seem halfhearted or out of place. “An Instrument” takes Cursive‘s audience-conscious musician “Art is Hard” to new heights with its bouldered notes and poignantly opposing piano keys opening the covers of a near biographical recount of the thoughts coursing through the singer’s mind, floating above the audience and observing through an otherworldly experience.
“An Instrument” is a stark contrast to the overwhelming sincerity and intimate look into the apologizes and coming-to-terms, which seems slightly out of place with the flow, but it’s completely forgivable. In fact, the five years between Commitment and Sever Your Roots are naught but dust in the wind now that The Felix Culpa has served us something so difficult to do; return, in form, and improve upon what made them great in the past. Take the time away as a winter hibernation, and their spring is just starting.