Oh, the album that makes one wonder. One listens and one observes and one is still left wondering what, why, and whatever other “W” questions may pass by. Castle Oldchair makes me wonder a lot. Wondering where the time went, what went wrong, why I became the person I became, when’s it all going to make sense. You know, Psychology 101 and all that stuff.
This album, Sad Pants, as recorded by the Mr. Castle Oldchair, let us say, is one that seems a bit folksy on the outside, but after taking a few bites, the initial granola crunch soon turns into something more obtuse, maybe a little darker. As if someone laced the caramel with absinthe and the rabbit hole opened just a bit wider to compensate for the confusion. Of course, tripping down it would only create more confusion, but such is the way of this music.
There’s something very Dinosaur Jr. about this album. Dinosaur Jr. in quiet mode, that is. So, if you’re a fan of J Mascis’s more cerebral and delicate tracks, you might find quite a lot to like in Castle Oldchair. Although the singing is not even close to being the toad croak of Mascis, the strange, almost winter-like feeling of the melodies and instrumentation carries that same weird buzz that enveloped the stripped-down moments of Dino Jr. of yore.
Strangely, though, the album begins on a completely experimental note. “Backwords (Running River)” almost makes one think this is going to be an album diving into Ween-like territory. But it’s the only thing on Sad Pants that sounds like it. After it dissolves, the full-on acoustically smoky flavor permeates and the next thing you know you’re navel-gazing while listening to these gentle pop confections. There is a bit of sameness that seeps through a number of these songs, like “Sad Pants” and “Another Big Ocean”, but for the life of me I’m not so sure that’s such a bad thing for this band/person/album.
The best track here is the sparkling “Speaking of Diamonds”. There’s some very percussive strumming or something like that, I’m not quite sure that’s going on here, giving the intro an almost sea-shanty feel to it. An oddball arrangement complete with violin that wouldn’t feel out of place on a classic They Might Be Giants album. It’s a very bittersweet and moving song.
Then there’s the surreal tune “Joanne Creasy” that is apparently taken from a letter that Oldchair had received — a letter from someone he hadn’t even met, yet who wanted to meet him. It smacks of religious fanaticism in spots (Joanne’s, not Castle’s) and makes for a strangely perverse and likable song. Yes, this is the kind of stuff to dip your toes into when exploring the songs of Sad Pants.
The final track, “Mourning Has Come”, gives off weirdo vibes that give one the sense of sound that Jandek might make if he ever sat down and actually played a “normal song”. A very creepy air about it all around, compounded with what is either a coda or a hidden track a short while later on featuring Oldchair revisiting the sped-up voices he used in “Backwords”, but this time adding some still weirder vocal noises. A disturbing way to end an album, and probably positively spine-tingling if listened to in the dark with headphones.
Sad Pants defies. That’s probably its greatest strength. For while some of the songs here can sometimes blend together in a sort of generic tone, there’s still that overall aura of something being just a little left of center the whole time. It may not be the most amazing thing that’s ever crossed my CD player, but, at the same time, repeated listens bring out a whole lot of strangeness that doesn’t necessarily strike the eardrums the first time it’s played. Seriously weird, and well worth hearing.