Northern Transmissions review of 'Castles by Lissie'




After a busy year of writing, touring and even a small Twin Peaks cameo, Lissie has made her next step as one of music’s hardest songwriters to define. Through her new record, her usual blend of power pop dives in and out country, Southern rock, R&B, funk and dance tones to make a sound wholly Lissie. Even with some more predictable moments, the utter devotion to detail and tangible passion in the record makes it a constantly immersive listen.

In the midst of a noticeably rain, the sombre piano chords emerge on “World Away” as Lissie’s heavy sense of longing rings out to someone too far to hear it. Rather than over-extend the thought over so many choruses, Lissie’s choice to really craft one large and powerful moment out of her inability to move on is much more powerful. “Crazy Girl” kicks out with funky rhythms and strange sense of cool, as Lissie rejects the thoughts of the outside world. While some of the core to the writing feels noticeably derivative of much pop that’s come before it, the way that the melodies play off each other really makes it work.

The cascading vocals of “Castles” create an instant sense of majesty to make the track feel more powerful and commanding than the soothing openers. With each verse Lissie’s energy builds in both percussion and the massive synths to create a growing wave of triumph that overtake the song. Though the piano progressions of “Blood & Muscle” are all too familiar to any pop listener, there’s something in the way the vocals quickly explode in each chorus out of a sparse nothingness to create a wonderful sort of dynamics in the song. This said, it will often be a bit of a stretch to get through each subsequent verse as the track never rides this momentum.

With a bit of Tom Petty smirk and a fun country attitude, “Best Days” brings a bright and sunny outlook to a very heavy and brooding record. While this could all be simple and straightforward, each verse layers more melodies than the last and even brings subtle sounds through the backgrounds to make the song take off. “Feels Good” pounds in its cold drum beats as Lissie explains the kind auto-pilot living that can lead so many people into self-destructive spirals. The immediately catchy hook and heartbreaking story come together in a perfect bliss to utterly devastate listeners.

“Boyfriend” drags around with its lo-fi and sludgy grooves, bringing a sort of R&B sensibility to Lissie’s pop that is absolutely great. The smacks of drums and Lissie’s slowly mounting wails really hit hard on this track to make it an atypical hit for her. Across the spacey atmosphere of “Somewhere” Lissie sings out with her guitar like a lowly Major Tom, as she sings out hopefully into the ether. While the track occasionally feels almost too bright for its darker undertones, its massive chorus belts hit all the right notes.

The shocking and personal story of “Love Blows” tells how hard life and love can be, especially at a young age when it all feels so important, and most people are cruel. Lissie matches this story with some of her most thematic writing as she takes little cinematic cues and some of her most dense sound work to make a truly memorable track. “What Am I Gonna Do” floats along with a more dreamy synth sound as Lissie mixes funk and shoegaze in weird handful. As fun as the sounds clash together, it does feel at times like the vibe of each section never quite connects properly.

“Peace” rolls a familiar guitar grind into something funky and bouncy as Lissie searches desperately for some sort of solace in her life, which she seems to find in part as the song blooms into something explosive. As some of her country soul comes out on “Sand” she grins through her saddest stories and hooks, for a song that packs a surprising wallop of emotion. The eerie strings and piano of “Meet Me In The Mystery” create palpable tension from the song’s outset, which is utterly fiery after it finally drags it into its climax and resolves Lissie’s heartache.

Words by Owen Maxwell


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