Review Summary: A surprisingly impressive American take on the UK Bass scene.
Kastle lives on the wrong continent. In fact, Kastle lives on the wrong side of the wrong continent. Kastle makes a style of music that simply doesn't get made in the United States. The American "bass music" scene typically contains about as much depth as Skrillex's Bangarang EP, and innovation is when Dave Nada slows down an Afrojack track. But, while it is rare, it would be unfair to say that there is no
depth or innovation coming from American bass artists. For example, Starkey has been putting out a nice blend of styles that contain all the surface-level fun and energy that the American scene contains, while channeling the depth of the UK scene. It's no surprise then, that Kastle's earliest official release was blessed with a remix from the Philadelphia-based artist. Kastle has consistently been putting out sounds that have depth and creativity completely unfamiliar to his locale, but because of where he is based, he has sadly been forced to go on tours being the second opener to Skrillex fanboy 12th Planet, when his talent is fully deserving of much better.
Location aside, from the get-go, Stay Forever
shows where Kastle's creative roots lie. A spacious dubstep beat underlies the title track's atmospheric, surrealistically pitch-shifted vocals that drop out for catchier, more familiar vocalizing "whoa oh oh oh"s, and only tightens the spaciousness up with a start-stop rhythm that brings in a driving force contained within the more overtly catchy synth lines. Other-worldly samples like Twin Peaks' "I feel like I'm gonna dream tonight" are just the icing on the cake of the dark, dreamy track that only shows half of the creativity that Kastle holds.
"Can't Explain" and "Don't Look Back" positioned back to back undoubtedly contain the most upbeat and dance-floor oriented elements of the EP, and yet both completely ditch the all too familiar club formula to utilize builds and dynamics in a fresher way that allows the tracks to retain validity in a setting outside of that scene. "Can't Explain" opens with a moving, cut-up vocal sample and bouncing, garage-tinged house beat that tease at a necessary transition into the obvious, bass-filled dance pattern, but instead takes a left turn for a more abrasive rhythmic section that builds in a much less predictable way, and finally reaches that expected climax only in the very last minute of the track. While "Don't Look Back" is arguably the better track overall, it suffers slightly from being too similar to "Can't Explain". The pitch-shifted vocals are more infectious, the beat drop provides a far more driving and moving feel, and when half the beat drops out for a half-step dubstep beat only to re-enter later, it hits harder than anything else on the EP. But it's impossible to ignore that it all feels a bit too familiar – the teasing intro transitioning into a starkly rhythmic section, the cut up vocals that exit and re-enter, and the beat drop in the last minute – they all work exceptionally well on their own, and they're never detrimental to either track's integrity, but it's an obvious flaw that's exacerbated by the fact that the tracks are placed one after the other.
Because of the similarities in the previous tracks, it's welcome and a bit necessary that "You Said" takes the EP in a completely different direction. The track features vocals from Austin Paul, whose airy, light vocals might give a first impression of sounding a lot like Sampha. Fortunately for listeners who have heard Sampha's monotonous vocals littered over otherwise talented artists SBTRKT and Lil Silva, Austin Paul's vocals have a bit more soul behind them, and they're cleverly manipulated by Kastle. The vocals aren't a necessary driving force on top of a lazy beat, the way they sometimes come off when SBTRKT subdues his creativity because the vocal layer supposedly is enough to drive a full song. Instead, when Kastle drops his shuffling rhythm into the track, he doesn't just let Paul's vocals float on top of them – he manipulates them to become part of the melody, sped up to fit the new aesthetic of the track. When the track suddenly becomes a dubstep tune, the vocals take on a more head-nodding spacious feel to fit, which shows that it isn't just a vocal track on top of a Kastle track, it's a Kastle track where he has full creative control over what the vocals do.
In a way, the EP is kind of a grab bag of sounds from the current UK bass scene. Pitch-shifted vocals are everywhere, transitions from 2-step garage beats into half-step dubstep beats and back play an important role, "You Said" goes from garage to breakbeat to dubstep in almost the same way that an amateur mashup transitions between styles, especially when the fast-paced breakbeat sample slips unexpectedly and a bit sloppily into the slower dubstep styling. In a lot of ways, the EP should be criticized for the way it feels somewhat contrived, and a lot of the ideas here aren't completely original, but the EP gives off this over-arching feel of knowing exactly where it stands as far as originality goes. It doesn't feel like a cheap rip-off of styles that have been done before. It feels like an artist who knows exactly what has been done before, and who knows exactly how to use those styles to make an irresistible EP despite not being the first to do it.
There are a few ways to look at how Kastle approaches the bass scene. Maybe he knows that the American audience appreciates an overdose of different sounds, the way the brostep scene seems to continue evolving by adding more and more of just about anything
to the sound. Maybe he knows that he can use the arguably overdone pitch-shifted vocals, which have been integral to the scene since Burial's Untrue
and made completely essential by James Blake's recent work, despite hundreds of imitators cheaply overusing the style because people in his area simply don't realize the scope of the style's use. Or maybe he just doesn't care. Maybe Kastle is completely aware of the state of both scenes and knows that no matter how many times listeners have heard "CMYK"'s "Look I found her" or "Archangel''s "Couldn't be alone", there's still an undeniable infectiousness that will captivate audiences regardless of whether they're in the heart of the UK bass scene or if they don't know a damn thing about it. There are certainly a few flaws on the EP, and it doesn't win too many points for originality, but if you can appreciate it for what it is and not where it stands in relationship to what has been done before, Stay Forever
is one of the most undeniably infectious and irresistibly fun listens of an already impressive electronic 2012.