RELEASE DATE: 28th March 2018
RECORD COMPANY: Spirit Goth Records
‘Castlebeat’ is that weird moment between nostalgia, unnerving contemplation and the dizziness that comes with hazy afternoons, setting suns and retrospection. This reviewer was impressed with their 2016 self-titled album, which arrived at a time before Mac Demarco had entered what could be scholastically deemed ‘post-celebrity’. A time when chorus pedals and slower tempos were beginning to be umbrellaed and confused with terms like ‘copycat’ and ‘influential’. I speak of this time only in reference to the fact that when the debut album ‘Castlebeat’ was released, a certain demographic, a certain underground and a certain discussion base were carrying them around on pedestals in the same way Demarco and other dream pop/jangle pop/synth bands were being. A similar thing happened around that time with the NY-based Porches and their debut album ‘Pool’. Everything was about the aesthetic, the nostalgia… The internet was recovering and re-convening from vapourwave and all the associated facets of it. The moral of the story is, if Castlebeat arrived at a time it made sense in, (while simultaneously being a great album, musically) what happens when times move on? And what does the next album (the aptly named VHS) sound like? Brilliant apparently… And its all a great trick of the light, because not so much has altered for Castlebeat and their music, even if the times have.
‘VHS’ opens with the instrumental ‘Research’, which showcases plucked, bright guitars and a programmed post-punk drum beat. Behind the music, sequencers swirl and pulse with samples and the occasional soundscape that floats back: a welcome introduction to the album. The much more retrospective ‘Tennis’ follows with a darker sound. The vocals, which ooze in after a short guitar introduction, appear in a considered reverb way. On ‘Tennis’ the band do what they do best: combine that kind of goth nostalgia feeling with danceable rhythm sections and extremely catchy guitar riffs, and you have a terrific album highlight. Returning to the sound of album opener, ‘Here’ continues the similar, colour-distorted beach feeling of ‘Tennis’. Of note is the extremely catchy chorus, that finds the vocals dancing in the background of a great texturing of guitar, bass and drums. Easily the greatest intro to any song on the album, ‘Wasting Time’ features a memorable post-punk riff put through several reverb, echo and chorus pedals into the context of the band. The track seems somewhat more darker and distorted than other songs on ‘VHS’, which gives it a brilliant edge that makes it a true stand out on the release.
‘Town’ turns the tempo up but retains a similar feel to previous song. The lyrics seem somewhat lazy compared to others but these are made up for with a brilliantly sounding chorus and refrain and the instruments meld together in a beautifully harmonious way. ‘I Follow’ has one of the catchiest sounds on the album and lives up to Castlebeats self-classification of ‘goth pop’. Another album highlight is the minimal ‘Zephyr’ which relies on the fantastic bass player. The chorus passages reveal a kind of meditative smoothness that makes images conjure to mind even more swiftly. On the Bandcamp page, many listeners who have brought the album speak highly of the second half of ‘VHS’ and in particular ‘These Days’. I can understand why this would be considered by some to be the best track on the album; it captures (especially through the lyrics) a particular thoughtfulness of regret, retrospect and dreaminess that I think most can in some sort of equivocally way emotionally relate to. Its anthemic, slow and just the right length to support its memorable qualities. ‘Heart Still Beats’ takes ‘VHS’ full circle, bringing the music back to a danceable and brighter quality of beauty and approachability. Of particular note is the songs fantastic second half, which captures something playful yet emotionally challenging and bring it forth through the music. An additional song, ‘Video Tape’ wraps things up accordingly, in Castlebeat and aesthetically drenched stylings.
‘VHS’ takes the impetus of ‘Castlebeat’ and pushes it towards something more post-punk and guitar driven. This push certainly gives the album a faster paced, more danceable feel, and I can understand if fans of Castlebeat find something more approachable and fuller with the sounds found on VHS. The album can be comfortably played as a listening experience, background music, or something you can throw on at a party to get people on the dancefloor. The real intelligence though (and the reason for the rating below) is that underneath each of the ‘goth pop’ sounds and effects of the songs, underneath the beach sounding, aesthetic driven riffs, is a real sense of nostalgia and retrospect. When vapourwave was done well it achieved a similar result, but even that tended toward sounding artificial and distant… VHS maintains the authenticity and reminds the listener that this was handcrafted with love. Many will comfortably ride VHS off as a lesson in how simplicity can critically triumph over intentionally and presentably complex and intellectual music… Little do they know that the band has coated the latter in the former… Do you follow? Before I continuously acclaim VHS, I think it is worth noting that the album wont be without its critics. Many of the songs maintain a similar feeling (which is why it makes for great background music) and you have to pay attention to notice the differences and techniques used from song to song. This goes hand in hand for any similar sounding ‘aesthetic’ laced music. The moral of the story is, however, that Castlebeat have backed a great album up with an even better one… a release that captures so much while presenting something so simple, achieved through textured and mellow sound.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Cam Phillips is a writer and above all, a music lover, who seeks to gain experience through writing and listening. He is also an avid film viewer and art and literature junkie who enjoys creative writing. His most recent published work was featured on Baeble Music and Culture (USA), Sounds and Colours Magazine (Latin America, London), Easterndaze (Latvia) and the Australian-based heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.