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Jennifer Castle - Angels of Death Music Album Reviews

Jennifer Castle - Angels of Death Music Album Reviews
The Toronto singer’s album is a country and gospel-infused meditation on death and mourning that flickers between the broadly universal and the devastatingly personal.

Death is resilient, clingy as ivy. When the funeral ends and everyone goes home, it remains, like an unwanted house guest. Death’s branches have long framed the Toronto musician Jennifer Castle’s work. This time, she says, “I wanted to try to put it in my center vision.” But death’s rude presence belies the album’s charming and often breezy qualities. Themes of loss, confusion, and frustration meet burning country and gospel-inspired anthems and sparse, piano-driven ballads. Throughout, she effortlessly conveys the conflicting emotions that accompany loss. Angels of Death exhumes death’s many forms with tenderness, narrating the often inarticulate core of grief—from pain and emptiness to the memories and hovering apparitions.

Album opener “Tomorrow’s Mourning” spotlights the chrysalis that envelops those consumed by death. Her voice a reflection over meandering piano chords, Castle testifies to the universality of mourning. The bare-bones album opener is a sound preamble to what follows. “Crying Shame” is a gospel-influenced howler that showcases the power and range of Castle’s affecting voice. It’s also driven by piano, but with force and precision. Rather than pulling back to capture the full panorama of loss, it hones in on a specific moment. It frames each line in the stanza, each instance within that moment, with regret. “It’s a shame,” she sings at the start of each line. “It’s just a crying shame.”

In the album’s highlight, “Texas,” Castle holds a magnifying glass up to her own experiences. “I go down to Texas/To kiss my grandmother goodbye,” she sings over bouncing acoustic guitar and percussion, before honing on the devastating detail: Her grandmother probably doesn’t remember, because “she forgets things.” It’s an example of Castle’s skill at taking a personal detail—traveling from a big city to a rural nowhere for a heavy and final farewell—and transforming it into something universal. At least that’s how it felt as the song joined me on a similar trip, from Los Angeles to Evansville, Indiana, where my own grandmother was dying from cancer.

Along the way, Castle offers glimmers of the way death affects the creative process itself. “Rose Waterfalls” explores the absurd timing of inspiration—how a muse is never there when you need her—over a pedal steel and twangy electric guitar. The album is divided into two acts, each ending in a reprise titled “We Always Change,” led by warbling slide guitar and flashing strings. That song creates a natural demarcation between the stages of grief, from the rough goings of shock, pain, anger, and depression to the upturn that comes with reconstruction and acceptance. “If you turn into a tree/I will sway/I will sway with you,” begins the second reprise. The song’s first instance is an instrumental, meanwhile, underscoring the idea that it’s difficult to summon words when flooded with darkness.

Angels of Death is not the stuff of support groups or self-help paperbacks, though. It’s a collection of probing reflections over music that gets directly at the heart, without trying too hard to do so. Castle cites Joan Didion’s tragic memior The Year of Magical Thinking as a source of inspiration, which seems fitting. Confusion and devastation ring clearly throughout Angels of Death, via simple, everyday details—like her depiction of a midnight drive—that are relatable and poignant. With Angels of Death, Castle confronts death’s forms with the clarity of a scholar and the reverence of an empath. It’s a meditation on something we never desire but always receive.

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