Take A Breath
Review by Simon Veaney, American Express
First things first. If, by way of chance you are attempting to woo a girl named Jessica, then you need to find the ‘Take a Breath’ EP immediately. The centerpiece, from where the title comes, is a bucolic, finger picked idyll called ‘Oh Jessica’, seemingly precision crafted to appear on mixtapes for hopeful Jessica seducers. With its yawning cello and beatific vision of a couple growing wistfully old together listening to their children’s laughter, it paints a picture of marital bliss which is hard to refute. However, if ‘Oh Jessica’ has a hazy glow to it, dedicated as it is to LA songwriter Chas Castell’s eponymous real-life wife, then it is the hard won break in the clouds of a dark night of the soul.
On either side of this reverie, we are whirled into a tumult of trouble and uncertainty, as Castell tackles subjects as heavy as romantic estrangement, temptation and bereavement with a refreshing emotional honesty. For every ‘I just want to hold your hand’ there is the heartfelt admission that ‘It’s just so hard to love you.’ Perhaps surprisingly for a collection recorded on the eve of the birth of Castell’s second child, the EP is beset by tension, fierce headwinds pulling the narrator ever further away and then claustrophobically closer to his small family.
Musically the EP reflects Castell’s questing spirit, moving from mellotron flourishes (Just so Hard to Love You), through raging sea waltzes (Pull Me Under) to angelic choirs battling with post rock guitar squalls (Without Words). Throughout the fog of 90s Britpop Camden lingers heavy in the air, with the touch of bands like the Longpigs and Radiohead detectable influences. However Castell’s voice brings a distinctive soulful dimension– somewhere between the earnest delivery of Tim Buckley, the croon of that other British LA resident Morrissey, and the swooping drama of Hunky Dory era Bowie.
The LA influence is most noticeable in revved up closer ‘Good Times’, where the clouds part, the freeway opens up and with trusty Rickenbacker fully plugged in Castell drives into the sunset, the ecstatic refrain of ‘Good times are coming darling’ ringing in our ears. This EP takes you on a journey from darkness towards the light of a hopeful ending. Especially if you know a girl named Jessica.