ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Out Of My Mind’ by King Charles

It’s strange to see that an artist like this is still actually making music. King Charles (the musical pseudonym of Charles Costa) came to prominence in the early 2010s in the same crop of other indie-pop upstarts like Darwin Deez and Cocknbullkid with his debut LoveBlood, an album whose garishness and high energy made it feel like a real breath of fresh air at the time, and that’s held up pretty well now. Coupled with a much-lauded collaboration with then-band-of-the-moment Mumford & Sons and a distinctively regal image (that’s since unfortunately been dropped), and Costa’s brand as an indie-pop star felt a lot readier than what so many of his contemporaries were doing. But then, the subsequent paths all ended up coalescing at one to general obscurity, as Costa’s 2016 album Gamble For A Rose did nothing thanks to a toned-down sound, and what felt like a sartorial, distinct presence within indie music ended up as just one more chancer for the pile. Four years later, nothing has really changed; Costa is barely remembered at all anymore beyond a select few, and even if the fondness for his debut prevails, continuing an artistic legacy almost exclusively propped up by one release eight years ago isn’t a sustainable move.

Totally demolishing any personality that was once their certainly isn’t going to rectify that either, and yet for some reason, that’s what Costa has opted for on Out Of My Mind. Changes have been made in the four years since Gamble For A Rose, but they’re almost universally for the worse; where the King Charles moniker could once be associated with flamboyance and pomp, this is a cold, drained album that barely feels like it’s coming from the same person. It’s honestly quite shocking how drastic that drop has been, almost as if Costa has no intention to make this project memorable again and is just trying to fill time in any way he can. Out Of My Mind certainly fills time alright, but it’s with possibly the least fulfilling indie-pop album released this year.

It’s really not difficult to see why either, but that doesn’t make it less baffling – almost every decision made seems to run completely at odds with Costa’s already documented strengths as an artist. Any magnetism or electricity on Costa’s part has completely fizzled out, with his default vocal timbre now being a weedy falsetto that can barely hold itself together, though on a track like Deeper Love is clearly being positioned towards a Prince pastiche that couldn’t be further out of its depth. Costa’s presence just isn’t one that has any vitality to it; his underweight tones really only work on the smokier neo-soul of Freak before bottoming out everywhere else with how evidently stiff and immobile they are. It almost makes the dead-eyed rap cadence on Money Is God or lounging Robert Goulet impressions on New York feel ironic, as if they’re there to draw attention from how underdeveloped Costa is by sounding actively worse by design. In reality though, there’s so little conviction to any of it, especially when it’s flattened and drained even further by production that gives it nothing to work with.

That’s a pretty concise summation of Out Of My Mind as an entire listening experience, where progression or intrigue is relegated to isolated pockets and a blank, empty mix serves as its defining feature. There’s no real explanation for why tracks like the title track or Deeper Love are so hollow and sterile, nor why She’s A Freak thinks remedying that problem involved plugging the gaps with galumphing thuds of percussion. As for Melancholy Julia and Feel These Heavy Times, they at least have some fluidity as a riff of Coldplay or latter-day Mumford & Sons on the former and a quaint, folkish toddle on the latter, but they also come sounding so toothless thanks to that production that’s almost universally neutered and surprisingly cheap-sounding. It’s hardly a shock that things actually improve when it feels like a budget has been factored in, with the chunkier bass pickup and steamier atmosphere of Freak or a shockingly competent left turn into what’s bordering on deep house on Drive All Night. But when this album also contains Money Is God, in which a shaking, synthesised beat serves as the spurious outline for a venture into hip-hop with little depth or creative tact (and where the mix balancing couldn’t be more out of line, to the point where the backing vocals are always louder than Costa’s when they’re there), it’s hard to directly praise the musical decisions made on Out Of My Mind instead of deeming its stronger moments as unintended flukes.

But that’s what happens on an album that forgoes all established creative throughlines and has no clue how to proceed from where it’s marooned. As obvious as it is that this is a botched overhaul musically, it’s also evident that Costa has nothing of import to say within it either. There’s a hint of self-reflection when it comes to how he’s been treated in relationships on Freak and the title track, but throwing that away for unearned flexing on Money Is God or milquetoast indie balladry on Melancholy Julia instantly cuts off what could’ve been the closest this album would have to a redemptive quality. There doesn’t feel like any motive behind what’s written here, especially on Money Is God which comes out of nowhere with no further payoff; it’s just done for the sake of doing it with nothing behind it to bridge the gap in emotionality that’s so glaringly there.

With that on top of everything else, it’s all unquestionably a downgrade, but a downgrade that doesn’t even have a well-meaning reason behind it. If this was an experiment gone awry but performed in good faith, that would be one thing, but Out Of My Mind doesn’t even have that going for it, instead choosing to cloak itself in brooding indie auteurism that it hasn’t earned or benefitted from. Bear in mind, the debut King Charles album felt like it embraced fun and lightheartedness in a way that truly worked; this has shunned it altogether for no good reason, and feels distressingly empty because of it. There’s no reason to choose to come back to this one, and even in its slim selection of good tracks, they’re not too special in the grand scheme of things. This just doesn’t feel like much of anything, and like the artist to whom its name is attached, longevity in the public consciousness doesn’t appear to be on the cards.

4/10

For fans of: The Vaccines, Mumford & Sons, The Pigeon Detectives
Words by Luke Nuttall

‘Out Of My Mind’ by King Charles is released on 17th April on Buffalo Gang Ltd.

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