Cassels are undoubtedly a unique prospect, but it feels like they’re yet to really find a distinct footing to capitalise on that uniqueness. They’ve certainly made an impact over the past few years in a melding of angular indie-rock with post-punk and noise-rock sensibilities, topped off with Jim Beck’s verbose but engaging lyricism, but that doesn’t seem to have lasted for the the most part beyond a smaller, more underground niche. Of course, it isn’t really hard to see why with a sound that’s as unapologetically left-of-centre as theirs, but there’s real talent here that’s yet to be leveraged in a considerable way. That doesn’t necessarily look set to change either on sophomore album The Perfect Ending, but then again, does it really need to? After all, there’s not really any other bands doing the sort of thing that Cassels are, and when that potentially lends itself so well to the social commentary that makes up this album, there’s a lot that could work here.
And indeed, there is, but it also feels like Cassels propensity for tapping into weirder, more off-kilter styles can leave The Perfect Ending as the sort of album made for an existing audience looking to hear about these topics, rather than extending that reach to those who maybe need to hear it more. But even with that, Cassels deliver some of the richest, most erudite imagery and scenery-setting that’s come out of an album like this in some time, and that does largely overtake an instrumental backdrop that mightn’t be the best suited to accompany more direct themes like these. There are indeed moments where the more intricate slow-burn does cap on a moment of real iridescence, but on the whole, The Perfect Ending can only distract from its shortcoming enough to be very good album as opposed to an out-and-out great one.
It’s probably worth addressing those instrumental issues first as well, simply because they’re really all that’s here to weigh The Perfect Ending down. And even then, it’s difficult to fault Cassels from a technical perspective, particularly on the instrumental track Melting Butter that works better at emphasising the dynamics and heavy-soft shifts in Cassels’ sound thanks to having the benefit of being purely instrumental. Elsewhere though, on songs that clearly have more populist intentions like In The Zoo They Feed Him Nuts and The Leaking Ark, there’s a bit more of a disconnect between the more angular, jerky progressions, and writing that’s clearly aiming for higher, broader territory. That’s not to say it can’t work, such as when those intentions are condensed down in a more introspective manner on A Snowflake In Winter and All The St John’s Wort In The World where the deliberately tangled and reflexive narratives benefit from a backdrop that feels similar, but particularly in the album’s second half, it can feel as though Cassels’ desire for creativity is taking place over what could maybe work best.
Having said that, it can easily be argued that The Perfect End’s instrumentation takes second place to its content on an album-wide scale, and taking that into account can do plenty to benefit this album. For one, there’s an intelligence and poetic flow to Jim Beck’s writing that’s second-to-none in most cases, and coupled with a vocal performance that’s often deliberately small and vulnerable, it sets up a dynamic of one voice trying to make itself heard within the deafening noise of modern injustice and destruction that can be really powerful. It also shifts the emotional needle from anger to something more closely resembling disappointment at the churlish dismissal of young people looking to make a change on A Snowflake In Winter, or a culture of victim-blaming in cases of sexual assault on In The Zoo They Fed Him Nuts. That disappointment feels even more palpable and curdled in the album’s second half and its focus on climate change and the human impact on the planet, as The Leaking Ark posits how the exploitation of animals and their habitats would change if they were given human characteristics, and A Queue At The Chemists despairs at a culture of trivial inconveniences taking priority over a dying planet. All throughout, there’s an articulation in Beck’s points that’s phenomenal throughout, taking the concept and ethos of punk and warping it into something far more contemplative and intelligent, and pushing Cassels into a thematic area that feels the most natural for them.
It’s just a shame that not everything connects to it as well as it could, and that’s what makes it difficult to truly love The Perfect Ending. There are some great, near-inspired ideas here, but an instrumental performance that doesn’t flatter them ultimately proves to be the biggest stumbling block when it comes to hitting those heights that Cassels have pretty much always been capable of. Though when everything else is so good, it’s hard to dwell on the flaws too much, especially when they feel more like a frustrating ‘what-could’ve-been’ than anything tremendously faulty. The Perfect Ending is still a strong album regardless, and even if it’s not going to be what pushes Cassels towards a wider audience, that’s not really the point; they’re coming out with their creativity unhindered, and that’s the thing worthy of the most celebration.
For fans of: Black Peaks, itoldyouiwouldeatyou, The St Pierre Snake Invasion
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Perfect Ending’ by Cassels is released on 6th September on Big Scary Monsters.