In 2002, Dispatch unknowingly made one of the smartest moves out there. After four full-length albums and countless fans (their free farewell show drew well over 100,000 fans from all over the world), one of the original “indie” bands announced a hiatus. Although they reunited every few years for a show or two, fans kept their fingers tightly crossed for a full-on reunion. Nine years after their hiatus began, Dispatch officially reformed. In those nine years, despite the hiatus, the band grew in popularity. As they prepped for the release of their first full-length album in 12 years, they felt their own power. They knew that no matter what kind of album they dropped—upbeat or depressing, poppy or their usual reggae-rock—it would still be a hit. Their fans were hungry.
Lucky for us, Dispatch stuck to their roots and delivered an album full of strong guitar, heavy heart, and body-rocking rhythms. Circles Around the Sun starts off with the title track, a song that could have been written when Dispatch first got together. Chad Stokes resumes his best position with a third person narrative, layering his soft, soothing voice with commanding guitar and fast drums (and let’s not forget the bitchin’ harmonica). The song tells the story of Larry Perry, a disabled man who was allegedly sent into space by the government after he was deemed expendable. In the end, in true Dispatch form, Larry returns to Earth in one piece to stick it to the man. “Circles Around the Sun” is a catchy return to Dispatch’s quintessential sound, and easily fits in with fan favorites “Bang Bang” and “Open Up.”
More than anything, Circles Around the Sun is very obviously a group effort. Each member wrote a few songs individually but the group collaborated on the finished products and even composed “Not Messin’” together, a saturated but serious song in which Stokes successfully channels his best spitfire Beastie Boy delivery. “Not Messin’” works, but the different tunes throughout the album are somewhat scattered all over the map. “Get Ready Boy,” while undeniably addictive (Stokes’ voice is just so smooth), could have been a bonus track on a State Radio album; “Sign of the Times” has a hushed, tribal sound to it. The biggest outcast on the album is “Come to Me,” which boasts Pete Francis’ sleepiest twang with a distracted tempo and uncharacteristic guitar effects. If it weren’t for the group’s collective vocal parts, you might think “Come to Me” was performed by a different band altogether.
As varied as it is, Circles Around the Sun still packs a good-feeling punch. Still on the softer side, “Josaphine” will have you singing along by the second listen and bouncing your knees while waving your lighters (what’s that, 2012? Sorry—cell phones) in the air. “Never or Now” embodies a tempo reminiscent of their debut album Silent Steeples, with an urgent chorus that begs you to roll the windows down and turn the volume up. The album ends with Francis’ account of becoming a father in “Feels So Good,” but it could just as easily be about the band’s reunion. It’s an all too appropriate ending—a mellow comedown from some of the more intense songs on Circles Around the Sun. In the final minute, Francis adapts a radio announcer’s voice and goofily claims to be a little frog (and then a little pumpkin) before segueing seamlessly into a final heartfelt chorus. He ends the album with a few seconds of the bluesiest guitar yet.
Circles Around the Sun proves that, although Dispatch has been apart for a while and their sound has evolved, their mission hasn’t changed. And that mission is to keep the peace. It’s clear that they’re still unhappy with the state of our country (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?) but even clearer that they are psyched to be making music together again. While their newest effort is somewhat lackluster, it’s still Dispatch in its truest form. And after experiencing an entire decade without new Dispatch music, we can’t ask for much more than that.