Casket Cassette Presents His Sophomore LP Love Letters To Ghosts
On his second album, Constant Williams blends somber nostalgia with post-punk brilliance.
How is it possible to create music that takes in big emotions yet still remains instantly listenable? This is the paradox that Constant Williams, better known as Casket Cassette, confronts with his new LP, Love Letters to Ghosts. Based partly in LA, it is the paradoxes of the city that inspired his eponymous debut, Casket Cassette, as well as his last EP, Chainless. This heralded the emotional complexity of Love Letters to Ghosts with topics such as addiction and the disparity of different lives in the city. Now, his sophomore LP explores more romantic themes that are accompanied by gritty yet upbeat, 80s-inspired post-punk melodies.
When new wave and post-punk emerged both on the cold streets of New York and in the depressed factory towns and post-70s cultural bubble in England, the neither happy nor sad beats and melodies appealed to anyone struggling to express the human condition. Spawning progenitor genres like coldwave and darkwave, elements from goth to glam have consistently influenced this throughout music history to make something powerful out of life’s downs. And Love Letters to Ghosts is a classic yet perfect modern example.
Indeed, Williams found his artist name on seeing his grandfather buried with a cassette tape that his father placed in the casket. It’s an image that sums up the mixture of dark and light, encompassing the unclassifiable parts of what it means to be human. Love Letters to Ghosts is a sonic homage to these kinds of images. One that is hard to pin down emotionally. Even with somber lyrics, there is always a danceable undercurrent that carries each track to ending on a high note.
Two other things also make it stand out as a really exciting second album. For starters, Williams is not afraid to embrace his retro influences, even including a fadeout of the 4th track, “Anybody”. This absolute unashamed love for the now safe and familiar-feeling roots of coldwave is an unpredictable match for his LA influences and bluntly honest lyrics – lending the vignettes he sings about the true timelessness they deserve.
The second is the high-octane, heavier edge to his work that is apparent in multiple places. Sonically, his choices are relatively pop-inspired, but the musical contrasts, chord progressions, tense intervals, and emotional synth lines make his work heavy and dramatic melodically. This is all without being too dark, necessarily, in terms of production and arrangement. Indeed, some of the tracks on Love Letters to Ghosts could almost fall into the synthpop category as opposed to coldwave. But they all have an emotional weight to their music which is offset by their hook-laden nature.
From start to finish, this knack for melody provides the missing connection from the beat to Williams’ vocals, which are beautifully goth. Deep, dark, and echoing, his voice is both a second instrument and a plaintive narration of the lives he sees around him. At his most uplifting, Casket Cassette is a celebration of ‘life goes on’, showing how sorrow and happiness – not to mention high tempo beats that recall vintage trends in production – can happily co-exist. At the album’s darkest, the disparate synth lines and tense melodies paint an epic of ups and downs to capture big feelings.
Love Letters to Ghosts captures a more private intimacy as in “Slowdance”. “Something in the way”, Williams plaintively laments at the start of the track, whilst after a gloomy verse it breaks into a big chorus where a rapid-fire beat is paired with drawn-out melodies in a wistful and complex contrast. There’s no doubt this is an LP that shows real maturity, and it’s not surprising given Williams’ niche as a poet as well. Its title belies a sense of magical realism that permeates the whole album, pulling together the human stories within the lyrics and bringing them to life through melody.
Casket Cassette’s previous release, Chainless, wove together a combination of tough topics and the celestial, uplifting sounds that carry them. Love Letters to Ghosts is exactly the kind of worthy follow-up you would expect. There’s a huge variety of sonic landscapes including the sparse, booming, and echoing chords of the finale “Weatherhead” to the percussive riffs of “A Way Out” – keeping it consistently arresting all the way through.
If you like your post-punk retro and bittersweet, Love Letters to Ghosts can’t be better. And as a re-imagining of the sounds of a previous era, there’s an element of somber nostalgia served along with it – a sharp look at the passing time since the genre’s inception and a reminder that many of the same human themes and associated paradoxes remain throughout the years.
Casket Cassette (US)
Featured Image by Casket Cassette