Castlecomer is a family band, featuring four cousins and a friend, out of Sydney. Their self-titled debut album is full of catchy dance-rock songs that range in quality from “pleasant and listenable” to “pretty darn good”. If you heard them on the radio (specifically, Sirius XM’s Alt Nation is the most likely spot), you probably wouldn’t turn it off. They slot in nicely with the likes of Walk the Moon and DNCE, which either means they’re coming along at just the right time or they’re about three years too late to find mainstream success.
Let’s start with the single “Fire Alarm”. The album’s press materials quote lead singer Bede Kennedy thusly: “When I wrote ‘Fire Alarm,’ I decided then and there to quit my day job and focus solely on music.” Is the song that good, or is Bede fooling himself? It starts with an open, catchy electric guitar riff vaguely reminiscent of Bloc Party and immediately adds a four on the floor kick drum plus the snare drum on the backbeats to give it a standard but solid danceable drum beat. There’s also a little synthy percussion accent in between the vocal lines that’s a nice, small detail. The chorus, at least the very first time through, drops the drums, which provides a nice kick on the subsequent run when all the drums, now including disco hi-hat, come back in. The chorus lyrics are also vaguely sexy in an easily singable way: “We’re too young to make it out / Let’s give ’em something to talk about / Can you hear the fire alarm? / ‘Cause I can feel the fire coming on.” The bridge is decent, where everything stops except for the guitar and starts adding things back in, sliding into a wordless “Ooo ooo ooo” rendition of the chorus before the lyrics pop back in for a couple more run-throughs at the end. The verdict? “Fire Alarm” is a fine dance-rock single, easy to sing along with, catchy, and just well constructed enough to be a fun, musically unchallenging hit.
The rest of the album mostly finds Castlecomer doing variations on that formula. Opener “If I Could Be Like You”, has another catchy guitar riff courtesy of Thomas Kennedy, one that pleasingly slides up and down the fretboard. This song also includes a bassline that doubles the guitar in a different tone, as well as more prominent synth line from keyboardist Joseph Neely. “All of the Noise” is a sprightly, bright rocker with a high-energy bassline and pounding drums that seems to take its cue from the Killers. It’s punchy and fun. “Make Love Make Music”, on the other hand, shows what happens to Castlecomer when the groove isn’t quite up to par. This variation on four on the floor disco-rock isn’t as catchy, which leaves the focus more squarely on Bede’s lyrics. “Make love / Make music / Make love there’s nothing to it” is not a great chorus. This one also contains the extremely strained couplet, “Like at Carnival / I’m an animal.”
Sometimes the band throws in deviations that stand out, at least mildly. Second track “Move” slows things down just a touch and begins with a narrative. “She wears her black shirt / To symbolize she’s hurt / And covers her beautiful eyes / Walks into high school / Feeling so uncool / Hiding behind her disguise.” That is a decent start, if not particularly original. But it turns out her problem is that “She just needs to dance.” Still, the groove in the song is a bit more low-key, and the bridge (“Can you feel / Can you feel the beat / Can you feel it in your bones and in your feet”) is a good earworm.
“Leaving”, though, finds the band trying its hand at an acoustic song. It is easily the most different-sounding song here, and yet somehow it feels the same as the rest of the album. Maybe it’s because the band’s songwriting didn’t change at all. Bede croons a little more here, and the band holds back, sticking to simple, barely-there bass and percussion and quiet, shimmering keyboard chords for three out of the song’s four minutes. Of course there’s a climax where the drums, keys, and guitar pulse out into a Coldplay imitation. But even without that climax, “Leaving” still feels like an alternate take of a typical Castlecomer song. Like somewhere out there there’s a version of this song with full drums and bass and electric guitar churning out another catchy, danceable track.
And then there’s “Escapism”. This one begins with a chiming guitar reminiscent of Tom Petty’s “American Girl”; OK, let’s be honest, it’s more reminiscent of the Strokes’ “Last Nite”. Regardless, the thumping drums and bass push a more rock groove here and a bit less dancefloor, and it gives the song just enough of a different feel to grab the listener’s attention. The big, downstroked guitars and crash cymbal dominated chorus make it sound like Castlecomer is cutting loose. It isn’t a great song, but in an album of sound-alike dance-rock, a track that feels like rock-rock is a small but welcome shift.
I don’t want to be too down on Castlecomer, because their album is smooth and competent. Besides maybe “Make Love Make Music” there aren’t any bad songs here. It’s fun to listen to, and the band is comprised of relatively skilled players. But even Bede’s “quit my job” song, “Fire Alarm” is again, at best, pretty darn good. It’s not a legendary single, and neither are any of the other of the album’s best tracks. Which leaves us in a spot that no band wants to occupy, but let’s call it what it is. Castlecomer’s debut album is decidedly average.