Album Review: Daniel Tompkins, “Castles”

I am primarily familiar with Daniel Tompkins as the lead vocalist for two bands: TesseracT and White Moth Black Butterfly.  The first of these is a progressive metal band that is a mixture of Meshuggah-esque djent riffing and multi-layered and vocal-intense soundscapes.  For its part, White Moth is much more an electronic pop band with progressive and atmospheric tendencies.  Both of these projects have real strengths, so I approached Mr. Tompkins’ solo album, Castles, with a certain degree of anticipation.

Photo credit: © Steve Brown

As it turns out, Castles almost functions as a stylistic bridge between the TesseracT and White Moth Black Butterfly sounds.  On this album, Tompkins has brought his talent for writing an approachable and appealing vocal melody to the fore in a series of songs that are more dynamic than the generally mellow tunes he sings with White Moth and generally more approachable than the polyrhythmic chugging of TesseracT.

Thematically, the album treads the much-trodden ground of ‘love sought, love gained, love lost’ but does so in a way that seems familiar, but not overdone or needless.  Indeed, he has managed to tap into this ubiquitous realm of human experience in a very intriguing way.  This can be seen perhaps most clearly in “Kiss,” one of the albums strongest tracks.  The song effectively portrays the moment when the desire for touch and connection is fulfilled, but creates an ambiguity both lyrically and musically by mixing beautiful vocal over-dubs with grating electronic sounds and making lyric references to the beloved’s “trembling lips” while evoking the idea of sexual sin as downfall: “Stain my hands in sin and wanting – embrace the end like tender loving bride.  A serpent’s egg hatches softly … ” The ambiguity of love is really the heart of the album.  And Castles effectively portrays how the most wonderful of human emotions can also be the gateway to our most exquisite agonies.

If there is a complaint to be had with the album, it’s with the length.  The second half of the album consists of remixes of several of the earlier album tracks that feature various people with whom Tompkins has worked.  The remixed tracks have merit, but I would have preferred hearing another couple of songs instead of listening to three alternate mixes of the album’s opening track, “Saved”.  “Saved” is a very strong track in its own right, with perhaps the album’s strongest chorus, but it still became redundant by the time I had listened to the fourth variant on that particular theme. 

All in all, the album makes me quite curious to hear more from Tompkins.  It’s quite clear that handing creative control to him for an album is an idea that bears lovely fruit.

Photo credit: © Steve Brown

Daniel Tompkins’ debut solo album, Castles will be released through Kscope on May 31st, 2019. Order it here.

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