It is hard sometimes to review something and not have it turn into an open love letter. That is the problem I have when it comes to discussing certain topics. I get that way with Christopher Nolan films, I get that way with episodes of How I Met Your Mother, I get it with anything related to Pink Floyd, and I also get it when I discuss anything to do with Devin Townsend.
With Casualties of Cool, we are taken on a journey through space and time; a space concept that has 50s nostalgia entrenched in it. The lead up saw pictures of Devin and collaborator Che Aimee Dorval in retro outfits, with a retro car. There was lots of talk that it drew inspiration from Johnny Cash, but a more haunted version.
Townsend is renowned for his production habits, especially his own take on the Wall of Sound, jewelry importer building symphonies with multi-tracked distorted guitars with a heavy synth background. Where Casualties differs from Devin's typical framework is that he doesn't rely on those tactics. There is a very open air sound on this record. Things ring out more, it breathes more, and yes at times it does sound haunted.
Some artists will never sound like anything but themselves though. Townsend has put out over twenty albums of original music, and in all twenty there is always this natural progression that prepares the sonic pallet for what he does next. Although there are no blistering moments of metal ferocity on this blues/ country tinged album, there are definite nods to his work on Devin Townsend Project albums Ghost and Ki. To say this sounds anything like Johnny Cash or anyone from that time is quite misleading, however, if Townsend did a full album of Johnny Cash cover songs, I doubt it would sound much different than this.
That isn't to say this is treading old ground, this is an ambitious project. From the ground up, Devin did things differently. He opted to try a crowd-funding campaign, which yielded a whopping 544% of his goal. Although there was foreshadowing of this type of album, fans who stopped following after Strapping Young Lad (Devin's more notorious project) will definitely feel like they are in an audible twilight zone. The compositions are still progressive, but the execution is restrained and dreamy.
It is also interesting that Townsend chose to take the concept album approach seeing that both the 1950s and modern times are more of a single serving culture when it comes to music. Today most people just want the noteworthy songs for their playlists, while in the 50s it was all about the Jukebox or the radio. There doesn't appear to be any songs so hungry for attention that it screams "I'm (the) single!" The tracks meld into one long journey. It is a comfortable journey with no real detours into unnecessary territory.
An album like this will likely get tons of critical praise, it will be an instant classic in Townsend's catalog, and any tour dates in conjunction with this record will probably yield high attendance figures. You can listen to it with pretty much anyone without it offending them. It sounds different enough that most metal-minded people will appreciate the abstract ideas it conveys, while people who are into that old timey music might appreciate that it isn't a sonic assault, but they will never mistake it for music from the old days. I think that is where the charm comes from, that it pays homage to a time gone by and doesn't rely on sounding retro to the point of it being a throwback.
There aren't many artists that grow with their audience; but Devin has shown to mature with them. Fans of organic music don't want to always here their favorite artists going back to the well, they want to hear them try new things. Maybe one idea won't work out, but they trust that no one album is the final destination. Townsend has proven that he can't be defined by any period of his previous work. I think in time, he will cultivate one of the most eclectic fan bases of any of his contemporaries, and he will have managed to do this without the assistance of radio, video, or big tours. He relied on his persistence and his uncompromising approach to every project he has his stamp on.