Circle Takes the Square’s Decompositions: Vol. 1 is streaming below. It is their first full-length album in eight years. For the time being, it’s available for pay-what-you-wish download on their Bandcamp.

CTTS are the eccentric prodigies of the early-aughts screamo scene. (We’re talking pg. 99 and Orchid screamo, not Thursday screamo). They loom large for a band that has only released one album: 2004’s ambitious/pretentious debut As the Roots Undo. Its eclecticism and thesaurus-plosion lyrics drove tradition-minded folk up a wall; nerdy, painfully earnest 17-year-olds like me loved it.

CTTS did not capitalize on As the Roots Undo’s success. Instead, the band toured for a period and then disappeared. A string of perplexing moves ensued. Among them: the band claimed (circa 2006) that they were working on a multi-album cycle, fell silent, and eventually released the first half of Decompositions: Vol. 1 as a separate EP last year. Frustratingly, CTTS’s first ‘album’ in eight years functions more like two separate EPs released in consecutive years.

Decompositions Vol. 1 does little to dispel that frustration initially. One of As the Roots Undo’s greatest charms is its idiosyncratic production, which approximates Zen Arcade-era Hüsker Dü playing black metal. By contrast, Decompositions Vol. 1 sports more conventionally metal-ish tones and drumming. “Metal-ish” does not play to CTTS’s strengths. As with Grayceon’s most recent album, riffs that aim for “WHAM WHAM WHAM” sometimes translate as “PLINK PLINK PLINK.”

But in the long run, I don’t think these complaints are going to matter. Production values are of primary importance only for music that has little else to offer. Good ideas can survive meh production, and Decompositions Vol. 1 has both. It’s thrilling to follow all of these components—hardcore! grind! post-rock! emo! black metal!—as they ricochet off each other, and more so when they cohere into a nameless whole. Main man Drew Speziale’s lyrics are just as engaging; they present a superstitious world as demanding and impenetrable as Deathspell Omega’s. (CTTS released Decompositions Vol. 1 unannounced on the Winter Solstice, and the liner notes quote Borges. It’s that kind of thing.)

Decompositions Vol. 1 has its share of bad ideas too, but thanks to CTTS’s mercurial songwriting, they disappear quickly. (Closer “North Star, Inverted” is the cringeworthy exception: a 10-minute, largely acoustic ballad that Speziale simply can’t carry off.) So it goes for those who fly close to the sun. Decomposition’s flaws irritate me, but its triumphs thrills me as only unique albums can. I know which attribute I’ll remember.

- Doug Moore

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