How Taking Chances, Joan Didion and Death Brought Jennifer Castle's 'Angels of Death' to Life

How Taking Chances, Joan Didion and Death Brought Jennifer Castle's 'Angels of Death' to Life

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How Taking Chances, Joan Didion and Death Brought Jennifer Castle's 'Angels  Death' to Life

Jennifer Castle was already grappling with ideas about grief, writing and legacy on the songs that would become her new album Angels Death when something tragic happened that would inform the second half her writing process. Two years ago — on a day that Castle just happened to pick up Joan Didion’s book about grieving, The Year Magical Thinking — her dog Ribbon was killed after being hit by a car.
 
“That moment clarified a few the things I had been getting at, for me,” Castle tells Exclaim! now, over the phone from her home in Port Stanley, “and really put me in the headspace to write and finish the record. Because I was tangibly experiencing grief.”
 
Some the most powerful songs on her third album under her given name, Angels Death (out now on Idée Fixe/Paradise Bachelors), arrived late in the writing and recording process, including the quietly uttered “Grim Reaper,” the dreamy “Stars Milk” and album standout “Crying Shame” — not to mention “Texas,” on which she pays special tribute to Ribbon.
 
Like Didion’s book, Castle’s Angels Death is about the strange, messy and magical ways the living experience death, loss and change. “It was time to talk about what happens with the people that are left and make sense that,” Castle says. “Everybody knows, rearranging is messy; before it gets tidy, it’s messy. So it was that kind scrambly moment where these beautiful things keep occurring even the moment after something very tragic happened.”
 
Tragedy, sadness and loss aren’t always because actual death, though, and Angels Death also touches on heartbreak, the joys and frustrations writing and imagination and other kinds transformation. “It doesn’t matter that I sat down and was trying to keep my nose to this idea death],” Castle says. “What ended up becoming bigger than the sum its parts was just this insistence on transformation; some the hard times that come with that and also the levity that comes with that.”
 
Angels Death was the product a musical transformation, too. Castle moved outside her comfort zone by doing something she’d never done before: record live with a band. Along with co-producer Jeff McMurrich and friends from Toronto, including pianist Jonathan Adjemian and Paul Mortimer on lead guitar, she spent a weekend at Dexter Sound, a church on the shores Lake Erie (where she briefly also lived with her family) recording.
 
“It challenged me to not rest on my laurels and bridged the gap between what I do live and what I do in the studio.”
 
While she “shined things up,” as she puts it, on 2014’s Polaris-shortlisted Pink City and 2011’s Castlemusic, for Angels Death Castle gambled by building on live takes, which placed limitations on what could be changed or added afterwards in the studio because everything was bleeding into everything else. But it also made the record sound more urgent.
 
“It ended up being this thing we had to work with,” Castle says, “and it ended up feeling vulnerable.”
 
That austerity and vulnerability reminded her her 2008 album You Can’t Take Anyone, the last time a bunch her songs were “just kind left as is,” and the gamble paid f: over just three days Castle and company captured stark and spacious, gorgeously vulnerable piano ballad “Tomorrow’s Mourning,” a ripping, rollicking band performance on the title track and honky tonkin’ “Rose Waterfalls,” as well as the expansive, psychedelic “Tonight the Evening.”
 
Though that’s not to say that a certain morbidity doesn’t haunt Angels Death. And when, a year later, she returned to Didion’s book having wrapped recording, it felt like the closing a loop for Castle.
 
“I could see what Didion] was getting at. I honour the fact that I picked it up and held it in my hand that morning and a year later, after I had written about grief] I read her book and was deeply soothed by it.”
 
Angels Death is out now.