In architecture, the apse is a semicircular recess covered by a hemispherical vault, most often referenced in the context of Christian churches. It is a piece of construction that denotes an altar, a sanctuary.
Apse's record "Spirit" aspires to a similar state. Less an album than one long song cut into pieces, its one hour duration consists of patterns and colors and shapes. The closest thing to a "single" is the dramatic seven-minute composition "Legions," a particularly concentrated example of the group's shimmering melodies and otherworldly rhythmic spells. Throughout the album, however, the key elements remain consistent -- helium voices emerge and stay wordless, sounding like a preacher speaking in tongues. The music sculpts ornate shapes then breaks down into an ethereal mist, or ramps up into an extended freakout. Moments of grace and ambiance cohere into something greater. Catharsis all the time! Spirits unbound!
Similar albums have been made in the past. A list of predecessors with analogous goals might include the Krautrock innovators Neu!, Iceland's Sigur Ros, the midwestern modernists Tortoise, the bucolic electronica duo Boards of Canada, or the tribal experimentalists Animal Collective and Liars. All of these groups have occasionally been lumped into the genre post-rock. Apse, however, may be the first known exponent of this style to encapsulate a particular brand of Northeastern melancholy.
Singer and multi-instrumentalist Robert Toher formed Apse nine years ago in that hotbed of musical activity Newtown, Connecticut. The rest of the band -- Michael Gundlach, John Mordecai, Jed Armour, Brandon Collins, Aaron Piccirillo -- has accreted over the years. The group's membership remains fluid, however, and the band is joined by other friends and associates when time and opportunity presents itself. In recent years they have developed an ardent fanbase in Europe where live performances have taken on a great intensity, but Apse's members currently reside on or near Cape Cod and the Islands -- an arm-shaped peninsula that juts off eastern Massachusetts into the Atlantic. Away from the hubbub of the city, the group value their ability to create art without the distractions of any known musical "scene".
When listening to Apse's music, you'll recall groups of old, but moreover, you will be reminded of New England's weather and history -- a specific geographical consciousness that inspired both the artistic community of Provincetown and the hardy Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock. Cold winds and long nights. Rolling clouds, forbidding beaches, summer swells, et. cetera.
"Spirit" sounds like a dramatic reaction to endless days trapped inside, and bears the markers of a band with the time and space to follow their weird vision to its logical conclusions.
"Subtle, elegant and gorgeous, greater than the sum of its parts: a reviewers' nightmare. This huge, world-sized album is so easy on the ear, yet so rich; simple in structure, yet dense with organic detail...Strangely reminiscent of all kinds of neglected sounds, mixed into new formulae, it blows away the endless parade of GSYBE/Sigur Ros plagarists... but If Apse can be compared to any contemporary, it must be the current incarnation of the Liars - the sound is warmer, less peculiar than Liars' 2006 groundbreaker Drum's Not Dead, but Spirit shares the feel of something grown from intensely evolving percussion and sonic workouts. Both have a sense of newness born of concentrated, iterated playing and sculpting and playing: drums, and the most atavistic, dna-deep rhythms first, built up from the guts and laid with exotic, unsettling melody. Both, like landscapes and living things, are simple from a distance, but zoom in and no two moments are alike. In the end, it's about feel, about putting something undefinable, something magical and personal into the creation. Apse have achieved something with this album that many musicians and bands have aimed for, but not quite reached. Spirit has so much going on inside it, try to give any of it a name - alien blues, classical psychedelia, ambient gothic - and you diminish the thing. It's simply one of the finest albums to come our way these twelve months, and certainly the most sweetly elusive."