When two review sites approach the same album from different angles, their opinions can be quite divergent. Such is the case with A Circle Is Forever, which starts with the words, “I fell across a rabbit, I fell across a rabbit, I fell across a rabbit, help me now.” The Big Ship‘s odd opening endeared itself to Tiny Mix Tapes, but almost sent us packing in the opposite direction. What kind of an album were we in for?
After repeated spins, and the realization that most of the disc was instrumental, we began to see that this opening – a rare instance of vocals even within this first track – made a certain sort of sense. Perhaps the couplet was meant to be non-sensical in Phish fashion, but more likely it referred to Alice in Wonderland‘s portal to an unexplored world. Curiouser still, the track really is one of the album’s best. Fahey fingerpicks and reverberated keys lend the first half of the piece a sense of timelessness; when the tempo increases mid-piece, it sounds almost like freak-folk. The words “Help me now” repeat while the rabbit line is replaced by a guitar line. The light static apparent in the album’s prelude (invisible on Bandcamp) becomes more noticeable as the track draws to a close.
A laid-back vibe inhabits the rest of the album as well. Crowd noise haunts the beginning of “Goose & Abel”; multiple typewriters dominate the center, producing a pleasing array of taps and dings, followed by the wind of the roller. Then come some sub-aquatic sounds, a thunderstorm and possibly even a wolf. The tension between performance and potential distraction lends the piece its power; the band seems determined to play no matter what. If some of the later tracks come across as less memorable, it’s merely because the opening tracks have been so atypical; while every piece is smooth in execution, the band’s strength lies in its charm. To return from a portal is to grow dissatisfied with the ordinary; after one falls across a rabbit, the weird becomes the new normal. (Richard Allen)