Tody Castillo, Windhorse

Tody Castillo, Windhorse

Progression, I’m finding, is generally a good thing in the end, even if it doesn’t necessarily seem like it at first blush. Back in 2005, Tody Castillo’s self-titled solo debut appeared and promptly blew my doors off with its in-your-face hooky choruses, smart lyricism, almost Rentals-like keys, and shiny-bright roots-pop. I still listen fairly regularly to “Brainwashed,” arguably the best track on there, and it makes me shake my head in wonderment at how flat-out perfect a pop song it is. The guy seemed poised for great things.

And then…poof. Nothing. Word would come periodically out of the online ether that yes, the followup would be forthcoming, and soon, but no new album materialized. He’d play occasionally, but really, after the initial burst of activity when the album came out, Castillo seemed to disappear himself for long stretches.

Four years and a move from Houston up to Austin on, Castillo’s finally back with the followup, and Windhorse is nowhere near what I’d expected. The album seems to be a wholly different thing from the debut, the previous disc’s bold splashes of primary color wiped away and replaced by darker, more muted, melancholy hues and a far more delicate brushstroke. The full-on pop-rock is mostly gone, only appearing on jangly, sweetly poignant opener “The Other Side of Love,” the almost Tom Petty-sounding “Sad Decision,” and the one truly “rocking” track, “Spoken Up Sooner,” which blazes nicely with just-distorted-enough guitars and a great, almost Bob Mould-ish feeling of regret.

The rest of Windhorse, though, is gentle and soft-voiced, far more on the folky side of things; the guitars jangle and swoon, the drums (when they’re there at all) are appropriately minimal and subdued, and the vocals are downcast and tragically beautiful. At times Castillo’s voice reminds me of Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek in its careful restraint and expressive beauty — it’s almost an instrument to itself on songs like the utterly spellbinding “Set to Lose” or “Mustang Island.”

The best moment on here comes with “Best Thing Ever,” which is cool, laid-back pop that brings to mind both Aimee Mann in its Jon Brion-esque production and Elliott Smith in its downtrodden, meandering feel. Hell, even the little string touches remind me of Smith, and that’s no bad thing in my book.

Listening to the song, as well, the melancholy vibe of Windhorse suddenly makes a bit more sense — while it’s technically pretty much a love song, there’s an undercurrent of loss and pain running through it, particularly when Castillo sings, “I miss my brother.” You have to wonder if the personal stuff he’s experienced since Tody Castillo set the stage for Windhorse‘s new-ish direction.

Granted, Castillo’s got a long history of performing as more of a folk-pop artist, so maybe this is actually a return for him to what he was doing before the brasher, poppier stuff. Or, hell, maybe he’s just been doing a lot of growing up in the meantime — being married and having kids can definitely do that to you. Maybe it’s like on “Hearts On A String,” a wispy, bittersweet meditation on (I think) fatherhood where he sings, “I’m an angry old man / among other things.” I feel that one, definitely.

Whatever the cause, once you peel back the layers of Windhorse, it becomes pretty apparent that there’s a lot more going on below the surface than on the previous album. As a songwriter, Castillo’s matured and deepened, and it’s awesome to see. It sneaks up on you, even; I’d put the CD away for a while before writing this review, and when “Set To Lose” and “Best Thing Ever” came on, I realized I’d been humming both songs at various times over the past couple of months, not remembering in the slightest where the hell I’d heard their respective melodies.

Like I said, even unlooked-for progression is most often a good thing; it definitely shows here.

[Tody Castillo is playing 3/27/10 at Rudyard's, along with Bright Men of Learning & The Sour Notes.]
(Chula Records; Tody Castillo -- http://www.todycastillo.com/)
BUY ME: CDBaby

Review by . Review posted Saturday, March 27th, 2010. Filed under Reviews.

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One Response to “Tody Castillo, Windhorse

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. (Late) Weekend, Pt. 2: Young Girls (Revd!) + IFest + Dengue Fever + Bright Men + T.S.O.L. + More on July 9th, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    […] ages since I last saw Tody play (as in literally more than a decade), but his most recent album, Windhorse, still hits me hard whenever it rolls around on my […]

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