Review Summary: Canadian Gothic, if you will Knows No Kindness
, Casper Skulls’ second full-length, presents a placid mixture of generic indie rock, folk, and art pop. Most of the songs delve into lead singer Melanie St-Pierre’s childhood in an Ontario small-town. As evidenced by the countless country singers and heartland rockers who have plowed similar fields through the decades, rural upbringings can be a rich source of musical inspiration, and the results are no different here, even if this album as a whole is only a qualified success.
While this record sonically fits well into styles which have been prominent in the indie scene since the 90s, calling to mind a recent group like Big Thief and even a hint of more-distant Mazzy Star, in terms of atmospheric touches, Casper Skulls have summoned the spirit of early R.E.M., particularly that of the Fables Of The Reconstruction
era. That (underrated) effort is often identified as Southern Gothic, with its unsettling aura and emphasis on themes of rural decay and crumbling tradition. In its eerie portrayal of themes like loneliness and violence through a north-of-the-border guise, perhaps Knows No Kindness
could be described as Canadian Gothic instead.
Casper Skulls deserve an A+ for atmosphere, as the band aims for (and hits) something distinctive here. However, the music itself is unfortunately a bit more of a mixed bag. Some songs do excel, like the cold “Thesis”, which stands out with some heavier guitar riffs, and the folky creepiness of “Ouija”, not to mention the harrowing “Witness”, which evidently deals with a real traumatic experience from St-Pierre’s youth. However, several of the longer tunes drag on, “Rose Of Jericho” and the title track particularly suffering from this malady. More generally, the (largely) easy-going nature of the album’s instrumentation leads to a “samey” feeling, which is an especially painful critique given the record’s runtime barely exceeds forty minutes. Nonetheless, the last three songs do end Knows No Kindness
on a positive note, with more stripped-down accompaniment (whether the folkiness of “Monument” and “The Mouth” or a sparse piano backdrop on closer “Stay The Same”) allowing St-Pierre’s lyrics and pretty (if not world-beating) vocals to shine.
Knows No Kindness
feels like a release which most indie fans will respect, if not quite fall for. There’s a lot to like here, both in terms of atmosphere and songwriting, but the individual parts don’t quite come together into a consistent format which would mark it as a defining statement. Even if this record might not make a lot of AOTY lists, I’d still recommend it to Sputnik’s resident indie fans for its well-crafted vibes and some genuinely haunting moments.