Every note rings true. That’s the first thing that hits you about Neal Casal’s latest, No Wish To Reminisce, a darkly sparkling pop jewel that borrows pieces from psychedelia, indie rock, folk, and gospel, to create something that’s instantly listenable yet rewards spin after spin. Casal’s 8th solo release coalesces all his charms into a cohesive, emotionally charged whole that grapples with heavy situations and expresses them in a way that’s direct as a punch to the heart.
“It’s an uplifting record about some really difficult things we all have to go through, whether we like it or not,” says Casal. “I wanted something clear, bright and psychedelic, distant and immediate at the very same time, loving and ice-cold. I told myself that I would not leave the studio until the record was completely blowing my mind.” The final product recalls the complex pop of Teenage Fanclub, My Morning Jacket and Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters) as well as classics like Big Star’s Chris Bell and early solo George Harrison. Think the New Pornographers with “Bell Bottom Blues”.
“I wanted this record to be more dramatic, more emotional, more committed, more everything. I wanted it to sound like a massive wave of emotion, something almost overwhelming at times,” observes Casal. “I tried to make it sound the way my emotions feel. I wanted it to run deeper, and to set the bar higher than it’s been before.”
It is the best album in a decade plus career where he’s worked with Lucinda Williams, Beachwood Sparks, Jonathan Rice, Shannon McNally, Badly Drawn Boy, James Iha, Tift Merritt and many more. His current role in Ryan Adams and The Cardinals is a great showcase for his lyrical guitar playing, as well as chance to introduce him to audiences unfamiliar with his resonant singer-songwriter work, which encompasses a similar wide range of American musical styles as Adams’ work. Casal bridges the gap between classic seventies singer-songwriters and the modern crop of introspective strummers like Iron & Wine and Elliott Smith.
No Wish To Reminisce stretches out sonically, a musical pallet that mirrors the complicated emotions in Casal’s lyrics, which have a defiant tone, questioning how things have unfolded with a survivor’s wisdom. The hard rhythms & flowing low end are provided by Casal’s bandmates in Hazy Malaze. Produced by Michael Deming (Silver Jews, The Lilys, Pernice Brothers) the new album goes down easy at first but repeated listens reveal a grand set of surprisingly moving, sharply constructed tunes that sound very little like his earlier work.
“At its core, this is gospel music,” explains Casal. “It had to be soulful, always soulful. It should feel like classic pop without ever feeling like it was looking too far into the past or future. We wanted to fill every possible inch of tape with music, to sound wickedly dense but still feel vast & spacious. Deming found a way to make these things happen simultaneously.”
They approached everything with fresh ears and a sense of adventure, dipping into electric sitars, Mellotrons, spaceship slide guitars, suitcase synthesizers, harpsichords, razor thin electric guitars, and a sweeping string section. Casal advises, “This record should be listened to on headphones. There are layers, other forms between the lines. The more I think about it, this record is really about contrast, hard and sweet things.”
Such was Casal’s dedication that he actually lived at the studio for much of the recording process. “I stayed in some hotels at first but after a while it seemed better to sleep right where the music was being made. I made a pallet on the floor of the room where the big guitar amps lived. I slept for six months with a Vox AC-30 next to my head and a big red Marshall at my feet. It kept me close to the sound, and kept me thinking about the right things.”
His latest builds on his high critical regard in the UK, Europe & Japan. His last album, a wide-ranging covers collection called Return In Kind, received four-star reviews in MOJO & Uncut. 2003’s anthology Maybe California got 4 Stars in the French edition of Rolling Stone. Basement Dreams was named MOJO’s Best Americana album of 1999. He has collaborated live with Teddy Thomspon, Ken Stringfellow (Posies), Gary Louris (Jayhawks), and many others. His current label home is France’s Fargo Records (www.fargorecords.com) whose roster includes Richard Buckner, Andrew Bird, Clem Snide, Jesse Sykes and Chris Whitley. Fargo releases No Wish To Reminisce in April 2006.