Archived Review: Cassino – Kingprince

This is an old review I wrote in 2010 for Cassino’s album “Kingprince” for AbsolutePunk.net. With AP shutting down, I’m saving a couple of reviews.

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In early 2005, Nick Torres and Tyler Odom emerged from the ashes of Northstar as the creatively reenergized indie folk band, Cassino. Their 2007 debut, Sounds of Salvation, developed the lighter, acoustic singer-songwriting of Pollyanna’s “Two Zero Two” and added earthy accompaniments like mandolins, saxophones and lap guitars to eleven tight, concise tracks filled with insightful, abstract lyrics.

The avenue is at it again, with a mouth that swallows men, and it fills my words with smoke and broke amen’s.

Two years later, Nick Torres has returned alone with Kingprince, broadening the sound of Salvation to birth a new morning for Cassino. Kingprince truly feels like the band coming into its own, embracing fully-developed Nashville roots to craft a brighter, pure folk record. Ninety seconds of mouth organ ease the listener into the transition, but after Torres starts cooing over an atmospheric acoustic guitar, Kingprince kicks into its main gear. This is an album of layered moods, with bass, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle climbing on top of each other to rise above the record’s steady hum. Some might find the seemingly constant tempos monotonous, but the album’s shifting textures allow Kingprince to flow like a river from front to back.

How do you make a living on musical chairs? You love those pretty songs, but the chairs, they just don’t care.

Lyrically, the album is as strong and in some cases stronger than any of Torres’ previous work. His references to Chevrolets, marionettes, gasoline, and plastic tangerines construct a lyrical persona that seems wholly his own, dancing around politics, love, religion and loneliness with honesty and poise usually reserved for writers twice his age. Torres has the rare ability to shape lyrics that hook listeners in a genuine, unintended way; that is, though the half-chorus of “Ghost” rings truer than any song I’ve heard yet this year, it doesn’t seem that the lyricist was in the studio thinking, “yeah, this is going to grab people.” See for yourself:

Lonely miss aero plane is dropping parts all over the place…But I still feel you in my clothes, in the cotton…it’s that close.

Torres’ vocals are unusually reserved throughout Kingprince, contrasting with the instruments’ bright tones to create a resigned, sometimes tiring feel that complements the lyrics but not always the listener’s expectations. Unlike Cassino’s debut, which found the singer stretching for (and nailing) higher notes to add to the album’s sometimes desperate sentiments, Kingprince shrinks from the edges of Torres’ range, opting instead for a falsetto that sometimes fails to fully engage the listener. This problem is most apparent in “Ice Factory,” one of three reimagined tracks from Cassino’s debut. While the revamped organ and percussion crashes with as much intensity as the original version, Torres’ refusal to re-pursue Salvation’s palpable ache leaves the track flat, dead in the water. In fact, the rerecorded songs leave the most to be desired on Kingprince; fitting the familiar tunes into the new structures cheapens the experience that the newly recorded tracks tend to assert.

Carousels and comet tails are somewhere in this river…And lonely has lost my mind.

Overall, though, Kingprince unfolds like a forlorn dawn, completing Cassino’s brilliant transition from alternative rock to alternative folk. The final triple leap from “Ghost” to “The Levee” into “The River” concludes the album in an unforgettable manner. With soothing melodies, beautiful lyrics, and delicate instrumentation, Torres sings a song that I’ll always remember.

Leroy Crow is scattered and soaked. The water turns to lead as it crosses the coast…Filling his pockets, invading his throat…He sang a song that I’ll always remember.

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