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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Castle Oldchair
Sad Pants
Standard Recording Company

Rating: NR/10 ?

October 1, 2004
I had no idea what to expect with this one. Sometimes you can tell what an album sounds like just by looking at the artwork. The artwork of Sad Pants only left questions. The press kit, the liner notes, the web page- more questions. With almost no background information, there is only one place to turn for the answer. Preconceptions are rightfully left behind. Turn to the music. But even after listening once, twice, and many times over, I was still left with many questions. Who is this guy? Where did he come from? How do you describe a sound that's so fresh and so familiar at the same time? But with so many questions, this writer humbly admits only one thing: this album is good, very, very good.

The mystery surrounding the album only intensifies when the first song begins. My expectations grew ten-fold within the first 20 seconds. Coming from my speakers was sounds very akin to the Books. The subtly distorted vocals sounded almost like they were sampled and pasted together. The gentle and sparsely plucked acoustic guitar combined with what sounded like a slightly modified violin or cello and electronic programming under the surface gave the album an otherworldly and timeless feel that gives the Books such a startling sound. I was impressed and braced myself for more of the same.

But then things changed with the second and title track. "Sad Pants", completely changes the direction Castle Oldchair seemed to be headed in. What once started as an understated and muted organic/electronica album becomes a simple pop album. I don't want you to be fooled. This is not a "I wanna hold your hand" sing along. Yet… it is a sing along. What separates it from so many other sing-songy type songs are its lyrics. "Sad Pants" (the song) is a song of shame. "She said it would make me wiser/ I've come to realize/ She strips me of my pride/ as he strips me down inside/ I guess it made me wiser/ I'm naked once again/ Cover the naked with a hand/ We're just friends". When you hear lyrics like this you would think you're reading some person's diary, albeit a sick and twisted diary, a diary of madness. So, it goes to say that these aren't words you'd normally be singing along to, but there you are, singing along, as if these were your own words. You're singing because Castle Oldchair's gift of melody can't be ignored. It's just too good. Instead, you must resign yourself to your own sense of shame in experiencing so much joy over someone else's misery, but what can you do when the hooks are so good.

It would be fair to compare much of the music on Sad Pants (the album) to the crowned prince of idiosyncratic introspective pop music, Daniel Johnston. But where Daniel Johnston's personal warts are featured so prominently your own feeling of personal discomfort swallows any satisfaction you may have had in listening, Castle is able to edit any tendencies he may have towards that vein of songwriting into something the average listening ears can handle. This is best demonstrated on "Swallowing Stars", which shows how Castle Oldchair can take the best parts of a musical oddity such as Johnston, carve away the rough parts and expose the songs melodic core without sacrificing any of the quirkiness that made it so appealing to begin with.

As you progress through the album you'll also hear hints of other obtuse songcrafters such as Deerhoof and the Danielson Family, but don't be fooled, there is a traditional songwriter lurking in the midst. "Circles" is just one of those songs. There is nothing odd about this song. There are no hidden agendas. It is what it is. It is a lament over the trials that a commitment to one person can bring. But while these relationships are a cause of deep pain, they are an almost unlimited supply of deep joy. It takes a talented songwriter to understand this and convey this. It's an added bonus to have it accompanied by such beauty. It reminds you why you love quiet guitar music so much.

Before long, the album ends where it begins. Tacked onto the final track is a song of sample-sounding, modified vocals pasted over guitar plucking, or in other words, a Books-like song. And then… it's over, sadly, just like that. It feels very appropriate to bookend an eccentric pop album in such away. It highlights the fact that this is not your average album. It's very appropriate that Castle Oldchair begins this album with thee words "Come it's cool/ Wherever the river it takes us". Castle Oldchair takes us down a river of a musical touchstones and styles, but never stays at one long enough to accuse him of plagiarism. Instead he forges his own path and we the listener are the better for it. This is only his first album and already he shows the poise and maturity of a veteran songwriter. If Sad Pants is any indication, I'm looking forward to hearing much much more from this musician.

Reviewed by Kyle Anderson

See other reviews by Kyle Anderson



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