Well, it seems that maybe we at Merchants of Air are going against our genre preferences here. Country music is not really our thing. However, what if said country music is performed by one of the most talented and gifted metal musicians of our time? Casualties of Cool is a project of Devin Townsend (he of the Devin Townsend Project and formerly Devin Townsend Band and Strapping Young Lad) and Ché Aimee Dorval. Devin has collaborated with Ché before on his 'Ki' album but here she is given a much bigger role. And even though Casualties is something he has wanted to do for a long time, this isn't just 'Devin and guests'. Ché had a big part in the writing of both the music and the lyrics. And you can definitely tell, because this isn't your typical Devin stuff. It is very much a continuation of the 'Ghost' album and his forays into ambient music that can be heard on the 'DevLab' and 'the Hummer' albums. Fans of the DTP and his solo efforts will probably find much to like here, but die-hard SYL fans will find themselves scratching their heads instead. Luckily, Devin has one of the most loyal and commited fanbases in the world (of which I proudly count myself a member of) so none of that actually matters. This fact was displayed through the immense support he received through the Facebook Pledgemusic campaign that was a key part in the inception of this album.
"Well that's just fine, but will you stop stalling and tell us what the album sounds like now?" I hear you say. No worries, dear reader, for your question will now be answered. It follows the (loose) narrative of a space traveller that is lured to a sentient planet, which feeds on the traveller's fears. Luckily he finds solace in an old radio and a phonograph. Further on in the story he confronts his own fears and liberates a woman held inside the planet, who in turn liberates his soul. These are Devin’s words, not mine, and they may or may not make sense to you but it gives you an idea that this is not your typical country album. It feels very space-y and trippy and bluesy. Very much intended to be listened to late in the evening or in the lonely hours of the night, preferably with headphones. Devin and Ché are backed up by a very capable group of guest musicians like DTP regular Dave Young, drummer Morgan Ågren, Kat Epple (who worked with Devin on the 'Ghost' album) and Shining frontman Jørgen Munkeby. The album bears the mark of Devin in the way that every second of all the songs are completely filled up with background ambience, strange effects, muted voices, snapping fingers, animal sounds, field recordings etc.. While this may seem like it would clutter up the songs, all of them get plenty of room to breathe and it never feels convoluted or forced. The whole album has a lovely flow to it, with every song seamlessly flowing into the other.
Opener 'Daddy' sets the tone for the album perfectly with its very radio-friendly, typical country feel. It is one of the more upbeat tracks of the album and it will soon have you tapping your feet and humming along. It does get a fair bit darker from then on though. As I said, the whole album has such a flow that it feels it should always be listened to in one go and view it as one big song, but if I had to name some favorites it would be the fantastic tracks like 'Moon', 'Forgive Me' and 'Bones' with it's Morricone-ish vibe. All of the atmosphere and feelings that are presented on the album culminate in the album's closing song 'The Bridge', which is a glorious, majestic masterpiece featuring The Sångkraft Chamber Choir and a mix of Middle Eastern and Native American moods with the typical Devin touch that, quite frankly, left me dumb-founded. 'Pure' is the album's actual closing track, with Kat Epple's soft woodwind tones, invoking visions of a barren wasteland. Here's hoping that from that metaphorical wasteland spring much more albums like Casualties of Cool because despite the vast output that Devin has, this feels like it is closest to his heart and leaves me wanting much more..
I honestly can’t fault this album. I keep listening to it and every time I discover new elements in the background. If someone would force me to name a negative point, I guess I would feel that Jørgen Munkeby’s sax feels a little bit too nervous. I would’ve liked it a bit more laid-back. But I’m really nitpicking now and I won’t even detract any points for it.
Take this advice and splash out some more cash for the digipack edition with the bonus cd, which contains some alternate versions and some 'leftover' (there's no such thing in Devin's world of music) tracks previously intended for a follow up to the 'Ghost' album. And be sure to check out the official videos for the 'Mountaintop' and 'Flight' tracks. Gorgeous videos for equally gorgeous tracks.