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Castlemusic - You Can’t Take Anyone

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Artist: Castlemusic

Album: You Can’t Take Anyone

Label: Blue Fog

Review date: Feb. 13, 2009

Even as this publication has been beating the drum for the under-acknowledged Toronto music scene, its ranks have been swelling. Among the new names is Jennifer Castle, a one-time Fucked Up collaborator and label-mate to the more musically like-minded Andre Ethier, Nordic Nomadic, and One Hundred Dollars. While not at the level of those artists, Castle’s debut as Castlemusic is still intriguing – a set of fractured folk songs that moves more restlessly between modes than its brittle vocals and timid guitar plucking would seem to allow.

Castle establishes certain expectations with the opener – a jazzy dirge that isolates islands of dampered piano in small seas of silence. The mood seems vaguely Feisty, but just as quickly the tone shifts, as Castle swings into her second and best track – “We Always Change” – built around a bubbling guitar intro that sounds like Yo La Tengo warming up for something winding and wonderful. It’s one of a handful of songs where Castle duets with collaborator Ryan Driver, and their broken harmonies walk a fine line between sounding nakedly direct and technically wincing. Mostly it’s the restive guitar playing that makes it – this is Castle’s biggest asset and liability, her fear of the locked groove. Her restlessness infects single songs and the album as a whole, causing her to stray appealingly away from staid verse-chorus-verse structures, sometimes throwing her voice up an octave to resemble Julie Doiron (“Piece of Glass”) or back down again to assume the cadence of a Child Ballad interpreter (“I Loved Him Now He’s Gone”).

There’s an impromptu air to much of You Can’t Take Anyone – Castle’s voice seems not to know what her guitar will do from moment to moment, causing these songs to feel recorded at their moment of conception. Whether that makes them adventurous or too much like demos is a tricky question; I’m partial to “Who”, where Castle gets focused on a lyric (“Now I’m asking – who?”) and turns it over enough times, in enough different ways, for the plodding melody to reinvent itself. In other places, like the interminable title track, she just keeps rubbing against the grain – unsure how to properly escape a repetitive figure.

Ultimately You Can’t Take Anyone strikes me as somewhat inchoate – likable fragments let go before they could find a way to cohere. If it isn’t the knockout that so many Blue Fog releases are these days, as a debut it still heralds good things to come.

By Nathan Hogan

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