Review Summary: What you never knew you needed to hear.Casualties of Cool
is about a traveller who is floating through time and space, and who, upon hearing a woman's beautiful voice, becomes entranced and is lured down to a hostile planet. The planet, it is revealed, is an actual entity, which feeds on the fear of its inhabitants-- it uses an old radio to broadcast the woman's voice and thereby ensnare its victims. Isolated, the trapped traveller's only comfort is the voice, and when the radio's power dies, he feels all is lost. However, he finds an old phonograph hidden on the planet by the actual woman, revealing that to free himself, he must face his fear. Armed with this information, he constructs a bridge using the bones of those who fell before him. He doesn't finish it, but his strength of will frees both the woman and his soul.
It's remarkable how well Casualties of Cool
captures that concept sonically. Even more interesting is that it does so through a collection of ambient country rock tunes. Not typically the genre one would expect to represent what is ostensibly a science fiction story-- hell, it's not a genre one would expect to see anywhere-- but it works. It really, really works. Indeed, what Casualties of Cool
strives to be, and succeeds at being, is not just a collection of songs, but an experience. Through its near-perfect production, layers upon layers of detail, and spot-on-performances, the album, like a great novel, tells a story, and keeps the end-user absorbed throughout. Also contributing to this absorption is the track order-- each song is perfectly placed, so that the album flows seamlessly.
However, that's not to say these tracks don't work separately. Though the healthy amount of ambience and aforementioned seamless flow of the record imply otherwise, Casualties of Cool
contains some truly incredible songs which work just as well individually as collectively. For example, there is "Forgive Me," the song released as a teaser for the record, and probably the one which summarizes the album's overall sound best. Its late night vibe, country-style guitar work, and ambient touches all coincide with the rest of the record, but hear it in isolation and it remains an effective listen. "Flight" is one of the most beautiful songs in Devin's discography, and considering that includes songs like "Thing Beyond Things," "Tiny Tears," "Ih-Ah!," and, well, the entire Ghost
album, that is quite an accomplishment. "The Code," which follows, is another standout, being one of the more upbeat cuts on the record and containing some truly phenomenal vocal work from Ché Dorval in its bridge.
But, really, Ché's work throughout the entire record is phenomenal. I like her a lot more here than I did on Ki
, and I thought she was absolutely awesome on Ki
. Here, however, her sultry voice suits the music perfectly-- thus explaining Devin's decision to give her the lead vocal spot for the majority of the album. And, while it may seem somewhat hypocritical of me to say this after praising Ché so heartily, that is one of my only complaints with the record: Devin doesn't sing enough on it! I would have loved to hear him a little more, and I say that not to take away from Ché's performance-- which I will reiterate is absolutely incredible-- but rather to praise Devin. He has such a great voice that a little more of it would have been welcome.
The production must be also discussed. All of Devin's records, aside from Physicist
and a couple of the Strapping Young Lad
records, have sounded absolutely astounding, and Casualties of Cool
is no different. Healthy amounts of reverb add just the right amount of atmosphere to the mix, while the instruments and vocals are balanced and levelled to near perfection. This production goes a long way to evoking the feel of the music and story, as do the subtle touches throughout the record's duration. The frogs at the beginning of "Moon," the effects in the background of "Flight," the strings on "Bones"... the list goes on (and on, and on-- I don't pretend to have deciphered every detail. This is the kind of album where new stuff reveals itself to you listen after listen, as is the case with most of Devin's work.)
Casualties of Cool
is difficult to describe because it sounds unlike any other record I've ever heard. No, this is not Ki 2
. Devin's description of the album as resembling "haunted Johnny Cash songs" is about as good a summation as can be. Even conceptually it is remarkably unique: it uses the country genre to tell the story of someone without a country-- someone who travels through time and space. Suffice it to say, this a record which you should hear as soon as you possibly can. It is a strong contender for album of the year, and further establishes Devin Townsend as one of today's most accomplished, and ingenious, musicians.