Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Country/Blues Rock
Released: May 14, 2014
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Recent Releases – Off The Grid
By: Kris Kotlarik
Disclaimer: This review only covers the main disc of Casualties Of Cool. Given the length of the second disc, I would consider that to be a separate release were I to review it, much like Epiclouder or the “Stuff That Was Almost Stuff” CD from the Contain Us box set. My review of the second disc would have largely been negative anyway, since there is almost nothing on it that gains my attention except for “Dig For Gold” and “Dead Eyes,” both of which are okay but not stellar, and “Perspective,” which is pretty good and reminds me of a slightly slower version of “Unity” off of Infinity. “Ghost Wives” is just awful, and “Fight” is a stripped-down rework of the brilliant “Flight,” serving no real purpose. Luckily, this disc has no bearing on the main album’s score.
“You’re reviewing a country album? What the hell is wrong with you!?” -Meathead metal elitists.
Don’t get me wrong, I think modern FM country music is total crap that strayed away from its musical roots into poppy territory quite a while ago. Except this isn’t one of those albums. This is more of a callback to country’s earlier days, further bolstered by a highly talented lineup and a nice, innovative concept.
Casualties Of Cool is a project headed by Devin Townsend and Ché Aimee Dorval (henceforth referred to as Dorval). The latter also appeared in a more limited role on the Devin Townsend Project album Ki and had some stellar parts, most notably the ending section of “Trainfire,” which has now become one of my favorite words to say in daily conversation. Other guests on this album include, among others, legendary drummer Morgan Ågren, Shining (NOR) saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby, and Kat Epple, the flautist from Ghost.
With a lineup like this, one would expect some pretty nice results to emerge. And for the most part, it is. At times, however, the overindulgence on Devin’s part is palpable. We’re talking about Devlab-esque indulgence here (Devlab is an electronic ambient album by Devin that isn’t anything special; if you’re looking for electronic stuff, however, The Hummer may be of interest to you).
The best songs on here, by a long shot, are “Flight” and “The Bridge.” The former features a nice riff and a relaxing vibe, with Dorval providing some highly memorable vocals. The second half has Devin’s trademark wall of sound, and the ending has a gorgeous Devin vocal line. Perhaps my favorite part, though, is the nice bass fill at the 5:00 mark. With that said, one of those moments of overindulgence rears its head when Dorval sings “Feed the pigeons with my collision,” with the last word being distorted by design. It makes sense, but I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Even so, “Flight” is in the running for song of the year.
“The Bridge” serves as the album’s climax and is the most “typical” Devin song here. He managed to get a Swedish choir to sing “Yolo” with straight faces (apparently, it just made sense to him at the time). That aside, it boasts two absolutely massive buildups with a brilliant mellow bridge section in between.
The other songs are rather mixed. Some, such as “Mountaintop” and “The Code,” are over the top when it comes to lyrical cheese. Others, including most of “Hejda” and all of “Pure” and “Pier,” can best be described as meditative music. “Deathscope” is a weird song to say the least; it starts with a straightforward rockabilly beat, but also has all kinds of crazy electronic distortion effects and also includes the only moments of heavy vocals (other than “The Bridge”). Munkeby does some wanking on the saxophone before it drifts off into ambient territory. “Deathscope” ranks as my third-favorite track.
“Moon” is Munkeby’s chance to shine, and his work is a major contribution to that track. “Broken” features the male contingent of the Swedish choir and provides a fantastic vocal delivery, but it doesn’t last nearly long enough. “Bones” is just an average song music-wise with more stellar Dorval vocals, but this track stands out as the one that progresses the album’s lyrical concept (a man lands on a planet and is attracted to a woman’s voice. That woman is trapped beneath the planet’s surface. The man tries to get both of them off the planet. Like many before him, the man dies but manages to free the woman). The concept in and of itself is fantastic and overall, it’s well-executed within the music.
The other tracks I haven’t mentioned (“Daddy,” “The Field,” “Forgive Me,” and “Ether”) are all solid and there isn’t much to be said about them that hasn’t already been said about the rest of the album: Some ambient stuff, amazing vocals by Dorval, and some calm, soothing melodies. There is far too much ambient indulgence on here for my taste, and yet I still keep going back to this album whenever I need a break from the heavier albums more than most others that would otherwise fit the bill in my library.
Overall: Taking out much of the ambient layering would have put this close to “Album of the Year” territory.
Additional Thoughts: Casualties Of Cool will be playing live shows in London and Helsinki. London gets just about every special Devin gig, including By A Thread and The Retinal Circus, while Helsinki had the privilege of hearing the entire Ziltoid The Omniscient album live. And it makes sense, since Devin has a huge fan base in both places and Helsinki is perhaps the best city on the planet. If I ever win the lottery, you know where to find me.