Woah. Concrete Castles is back with a bang.
I consistently try to follow the different musicians who are part of this AOTY community, it's always fun to listen to independent artists. I spend entire Sunday afternoons just browsing the depths of BandCamp. Anyways, I won't lie, I hadn't been thoroughly impressed by an AOTY album until I stumbled upon ConcreteCastles' "Onanon".
What a project! When I initially gave that album a high rating, I thought for sure I was overrating because of how surprised I was with it's quality and my inherent positive bias towards any AOTY user. Nevertheless, it remained as one of my top 50 albums of last year (out of like 450 which I listened to in total). I loved it. It was experimental yet purposeful. This felt like the work of an established artist with a clear vision at this point whilst still containing that unpredictable spark of an ambitious mind. Therefore, when I saw that this new album was out, I knew I had to drop everything and give it a listen!
This isn't quite as impactful as "Onanon" for me but still a truly impressive album from Concrete Castles. I was a bit worried with the lead single, "Prologue: Ocean ( parts 1 and 2)",the second part was just really basic ambient and the first was this cluttered soundscape with some cheap-sounding keyboard sounds. By the way, I'm sorry, I won't be pulling any punches. Still support Concrete Castles tho...anyways...yeah. I was a bit scared off initially by that and I still think that track is my least favorite of the eight tracks on this album. Moreover, hearing Concrete Castles describe this as a "folk inspired album" also sort of didn't sit well with me since I wanted another album to use the same soundscapes as "Onanon". That well certainly hadn't dried up yet.
Luckily, I think this album plays with the approaches to song-writing that I enjoyed on "Onanon" as well as create a fresh new sound for Concrete Castles to experiment with. More importantly, the songs still go hard!
For the majority of this album, Concrete Castles is using guitar melodies more and more and using that acoustic approach to sometimes try to make these more ambient passages. However the more experimental modern post-rock weirdness which was on "Onanon" is still here.
The track, "The Extreme Blur" is FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC! The incredibly soft and gentle melody perfectly contrasts the eventual build-up to this noisier climax. It's a really well-executed progression...honestly. This song could've felt forced and gimmicky but I felt like each step the track took was natural. I really like the sort of cooldown second half of the track with these distant "conversations?" in the back and some discordant recorder or flute tunes? It's pretty cool.
The track, "Shadows Ricocheting" also sort starts with this minute of just Concrete Castles messing around with a guitar, trying to make some patterns until it eventually grows into something much more poignant aided by this odd "spoken-word" thing happening in the background.
The track that follows "The Extreme Blur", "Ice" makes the right decision of not going for another crescendo type track but instead dive headfirst into the noisier sides of things with some pummelling instrumentation and a haunting melody sort of lurking in the background. There's something about this track which just feels...professional or maybe a better word is...refined. Again Concrete Castles moves with purpose even on tracks that are supposed to be a bit more abstract. I just really admire how these tracks are built, the entirety of "ice" is just near-perfect for me. The first leg is instantly gratifying and sort of catchy with that aforementioned "lurking melody" and the second half is calming yet still very active giving us these shimmering embellishments to enjoy.
I thought the way Concrete Castles introduced these buried vocals was pretty creative, it caught me off guard on the track "The Extreme Blur" but on the track "Dreams", I think Concrete Castles should focus a bit more on being more confident as a vocalist. I do admire the ambition of the track and the soundscape of the first leg is pretty immersive however I think the vocals feel out of place unfortunately. There's nothing wrong with this very faint and almost whispery approach but I thought it felt a little "Half-assed". Sorry if that's harsh...but yeah I think if Concrete Castles continues to pursue more tracks with vocals on them, I want the vocals to be on the mainstage not somewhere in between. Because at this point it sort of feels like I left on a youtube video whilst I was listening to music, the vocals haven't truly embedded themselves into the soundscape and feel a bit detached.
I think the closing track, "Plasma/ Phasma" handles vocals much better. The mixing on the first leg might be a bit awkward but since the vocals are the central point with this distorted repetition, i can at least appreciate what he was going for. The track then transitions into this new musical environment with this keyboard melodies and some autotuned yet truly heartwarming vocals from Concrete Castles, I really love how these vocals sort of melt into the keyboard and setup the introduction of these piercing synths and more crashing chaos to ensue. It's pretty awesome!
I didn't mention the interlude, "Crosseyed" but the track "Shade" did stand out to me as something I'd hear on a movie score. I've been listening to tons of movie score and this sounds like something Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross would make. I mean that in the best way, shit's pretty dope.
Anyway at the end of the day, this might not be my favorite project from Concrete Castles however I do think it's impressive that this project sounds as unique as it does. If anything this is more imaginative than "Onanon" as it incorporates even more genre influences than that project did. Yeah, I'm liking this one!
Concrete Castles GANG!!!
Fav tracks: "The Extreme Blur", "Ice", "Shade", "Shadows Ricochetting", (The Second Half Of "Plasma/ Phasma"...sooo is that "Phasma"?)
Least Fav Tracks; "Prologue: Ocean (parts 1 and 2)"