Music Review: Circulatory System, Mosaics Within Mosaics

Published on July 18th, 2014 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By John Lane

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Two things I want to get out of the away in the beginning of this review: Comparisons have been floated already in numerous reviews about this new album. The first is the comparison to The Beach Boys’ SMILE; while flattering perhaps to them in a remote way, I cannot think of a more off-base touchstone. To compare Mosaics Within Mosaics to SMILE is like visiting a wax museum and comparing the waxworks (SMILE) to the Easter Island statues (Mosaics). This is not to denigrate SMILE or Mosaics Within Mosaics, but rather to illustrate that the two albums occupy two entirely different planets not worthy of comparison. It’s like gazing at the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, observing the moustaches, and then saying the whole thing reminds you of The Village People because, you know, moustaches.

The second point of contention is the casual throw-around of the word “psychedelic” in all these reviews. Again, lazy and misleading, as the term itself has a sort of anachronistic dusty taint to it—would Steve Reich be considered psychedelic because of his experimentation with form and structure? I feel like the old person shaking his head at a young woman wearing styles that were unflattering in “my day.”

With that out of the way, what this album is:

Mosaics Within Mosaics is the third album from Circulatory System, led by Will Cullen Hart, along with friends Derek Almstead, Suzanne Allison, Peter Erchick, John Fernandes, Charlie Johnston, and Heather McIntosh. They’re a band whose previous artistic statements included 2001’s eponymous album and 2009’s Signal Morning.

Hart, along with some of his pals, emerged from the ‘90s successful indie pop band, The Olivia Tremor Control (OTC). The story and glory of the OTC is mythologically beautiful in and of itself—a bunch of pals (along with now-departed and deeply missed co-leader Bill Doss) took music back to the four-track, steeped themselves in a curious mixture of sound collages and hooky songs, and somehow broke through. Now, years later, the surviving co-leader and many of the same OTC crew make up Circulatory System. That’s the thumbnail sketch, a mosaic within a mosaic.

This album is diffuse, it’s splendorous, and it’s a lengthy jaunt through dreams within dreams. There are jangly guitars, unexpected instrumentation that sounds both modern and yet of an older time, and vocals (Hart’s and the back-up) which always guide the listener through the dense thicket of sound. One does not know what’s around the next bend—a virtual corn maze that becomes a marshmallow maze and so forth. (Don’t say “psychedelic” or I’ll give you a hot foot.)

If any comparisons are to be made, then one could compare this album to the OTC—not in an odious way, but to only mention that these songs are an extension and growth from that period so long ago now. “When You’re Small” is pop, and it would be so easy to cite 1967-era-related references, but then—as Hart’s music always reminds you—it’s happening here and now. (“There Is No Time But Now” is a pivotal song on this album, for Pete’s sake!)

My favorite song is “Over Dinner the Cardinal Spoke,” which has an understated jazz-y vibe, spinning out the narrative of a Cardinal who appears to visit a family dinner party, get loaded, tell some bawdy stories/jokes, and then the songwriter goes away to tell the story without revealing just how much of a boob the Cardinal actually was. It’s pastoral stuff sifted through the lens of pop and jazz. Hart’s voice sounds as youthful as ever in all these songs, waiting for us to catch up without an ounce of urgency.

In short, I love this album, as I’ve been waiting for it half a decade. So don’t cite SMILE or psychedelic, although these tunes might vaguely remind you of those things. Mosaics Within Mosaics is a museum unlike one you’ve visited before. Even if you’re already familiar with OTC and Circulatory System, you will get lost in the corridors of sound here, and when a friendly security guard asks if you need assistance to find your way back, you’ll decline the help and want to continue onward.

Mosaics Within Mosaics was released on June 24 by Cloud Recordings.

One Response to “Music Review: Circulatory System, Mosaics Within Mosaics


  1. A.Kingsley:
    August 8th, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    I think you misunderstand what psychedelia is. Mosaics Within Mosaics is much more than just psychedelic music, but it is one of the most psychedelic albums of all time

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