Album Review – Circles Around The Sun by Circles Around The Sun

Written by on March 4, 2021

By Arlo Catanzaro


Circles Around The Sun, sometimes referred to as CATS, is a jam focused band, usually without any vocals, and is much more focused on creating exquisite, chilled-out jams. They are one of my favorite bands to listen to while doing work and are great to listen to when you need to unwind. The band was founded by the late Neal Casal who unfortunately took his life in August of 2019.

The band started when Justin Kreutzmann, who is the son of the Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, asked Neal Casal to write intermission music for the Dead’s Fare Thee Well concert in 2015. The concert was a 50-year celebration of the Grateful Dead and was the last time the remaining members of the Grateful Dead played together under the Grateful Dead name. They were also joined by Trey Anastasio from Phish as well as Jeff Chimenti who has been a part of multiple Dead sidebands.

Neal Casal would go on to release the intermission music as an album called Interludes For The Dead in 2015 and the band would also release another album, Let It Wander, in 2018. Both of these albums have a more, “psych-jazz odyssey” (as described by CATS themselves) but their new self-titled album takes Circles Around The Sun into a cosmic-disco direction and provides a much more groovy beat and a higher energy sound. A major reason for this sudden shift was they were working from the tracks that Neal recorded before taking his own life; Neal left a note asking the band to finish the album and continue touring. The band respected his wishes, and I am amazed by how spectacularly they have carried on without Neal.

“You Gotta Start Somewhere” is the zenith of CATS’ new sound, with the track being the definition of groove and a beat that will immediately get you to tap your feet. The playfulness between the guitar and the piano gives an amazing zooming-through-space feeling but the track can be extremely repetitive and there are no little surprises in the jam that keep you coming back. I also recommend “Babyman” which is the intro track to the album,  but there is also an amazing music video put out alongside it. It’s a very fun track and I love the “space drum” shown in the video; I’m always a fan of cow-bell noises in tracks.

“Babyman” by Circles Around The Sun Music Video

Billy Strings, (see my review of his album Home) did a collaboration with CATS to release a track to memorialize Neal Casal called “All The Luck In The World.” It’s on Spotify, but they also released a small video to go along with it. I’m not a huge fan of Billy’s acoustic mixing with the psych-jazz sound of CATS as I think both are fighting for attention in the track.

“All The Luck In The World” by Circles Around The Sun and Billy Strings

In addition Circles Around The Sun have also released live recordings from Winter 2020 on their Bandcamp and have also finished two tracks recorded partly by Neal, “Mountains of the Moon,” and “Ship of Fools.” Both are Grateful Dead covers and can be found both on Bandcamp and Spotify. The tracks have a psychedelic trance to them that’s very soothing and relaxing.

Finally, Neal Casal’s last two solo tracks were released at the start of December 2020: “Everything is Moving” and “Green Moon” play much more into Neal’s country roots. I haven’t had a chance to dive into the tracks yet, but from the initial impression they both seem like amazing tracks and I appreciate that they put them out.

I am so excited to see where Circles Around The Sun goes and I am so happy that they continued on without Neal. They are fulfilling Neal’s wishes and making fantastic music while they do it; I can’t wait to see what guitarists they bring in to fill in the void left by Neal.


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