Death Is Just an Interesting Part of Life on Jennifer Castle’s Latest
EDITOR’S NOTE: Before the flood of new releases begins in 2019, we’re looking back at some releases from last year that we didn’t get a chance to write up when they were released. Jennifer Castle’s Angels of Death was released in May.
Death is ever present on Toronto singer-songwriter Jennifer Castle’s fifth record, Angels of Death. Death is always present in all our lives, too. It’s a great equalizer that invokes an all-consuming fear if you dwell on it for too long. But death is not a permeating source of fear for Castle on this record. Castle says as much in the quiet, fingerpicked “Grim Reaper”: “it’s not that I’m afraid at night to meet the one who holds the scythe.” Death, to Castle, is merely an interesting part of life.
Castle’s grim musings are woven into solemn piano melodies (“Tomorrow’s Mourning”), twanged country (“Rose Waterfalls”), and psych-folk (“Tonight the Evening”). Whatever the music style, her warbling vocals are a continual source of fascination. Castle’s wails of grief and loneliness on highlight “Crying Shame” fill the spaces left by the simple piano chords, and her warm murmurs are a guiding light on the hushed “Stars of Milk.”
On the upbeat folk number and standout track “Texas,” Castle recounts a trip to Texas to say goodbye to her grandmother, who was dying of cancer. Its bouncy rhythm coupled with the playful doo-wop chorus of “oohs” from backing vocalists Victoria Cheong and Isla Craig allows the track to sound less like a forlorn pilgrimage and more like a celebration of life.
Amid death’s long shadow is Castle’s other muse: songwriting itself. About Angels of Death, Castle notes, “In order to talk about death, I armed myself with the only antidote I know: writing. Is this a record about death or a record about writing? Hard to tell in the end.” Within the tumbling melody of “Rose Waterfalls,” Castle reflects on the challenge of “living with the muses all around me,” and in the second half of “Grim Reaper,” she combats death’s cold presence through writing: “I wrote upon the page with scratch / with pen I tore along the line / definite as I tried to hatch / and justify my earthy time,” sings Castle. It’s a line that captures the essence of Angels of Death.
Castle is one of Canada’s finest songwriters, and Angels of Death is further proof. Her thoughtful meditations on grief and death within this record are handled with so much care that a warmth radiates from each track. Angels of Death is about life as much as it is about death.
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