Circles Around The Sun began as the source for composing, playing and recording music to be played at set breaks during the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well concerts of 2015. Due to positive response and subsequent demand, the alternately breezy and dream-like sounds were subsequently released that year as Interludes For The Dead, a somewhat ironic title because the consolidated output bore scant reference to its stylistic underpinnings.
This sequel, Let It Wander, is similarly free of direct precedent. The one overt nod here is a purposeful one, well outside the realm of psychedelia as we know it, in the form of Public Enemy member Chuck D’s intro to “One For Chuck;” a tune the hip-hop pioneer loved when heard it by chance in the studio during CATS recording, it appears on just the second cut of seven here, going by too quickly to be either annoying or intrusive, so brief in fact it’s easy to miss. This quick interlude otherwise allows listeners to become mesmerized early in the course of hearing this double album’s seventy-five minute entirety.
Every true band has its own chemistry and CATS is no exception. The group moves in mostly languorous motion, which might be enervating if it weren’t for its distinctive internal rhythm, another hallmark of a true unit. During “On My Mind,” for instance, bassist Dan Horne and drummer Mark Levy play with just the slightest hint of syncopation, while keyboardist Adam MacDougall alternates between crisp but warm electric piano runs and loping synthesizer lines, leaving guitarist Neal Casal to apply the finishing touches to the performance. It’s a function the titular leader of the group also performs on “Halicarnassus,” the most insistent of these mostly group-composed cuts.
In his continued growth as an instrumentalist, Casal is purposeful and pointed in his playing, as on “Tacoma Narrows,” whether he’s using distortion or playing clean. Which may be why MacDougall doesn’t fall prey to his tendency to lose his train(s) of thought on a number such as “Immovable Object,” of which he is the sole author. Elsewhere, Let It Wander has all the charms of its predecessor, the band offering sounds reminiscent of an eloquent improvisation in progress (and not just akin one to those of the aforementioned iconic San Francisco band). “Electric Chair (Don’t Sit There” thus proceeds to an alternately earthy and spacey conclusion, similar to that of the cryptically-titled ”Ticket to Helix NGC 7293,” during all of which undulations, the rhythm section maintains its stability.
The deceptive simplicity of Circles Around The Sun’s wholly instrumental musicianship may be its greatest asset, particularly as it’s enhanced by the plush, seductive sound quality of Let It Wander. Co-production by the band and engineer/mixer JP Hesser magnifies the sparse nature of the arrangements, even with the addition of Jeff Franca’s congas, bongos and percussion. As a result, the combination of virtues mirrors the planetary progression depicted in the album cover artwork.