Joel Johnston has released a string of EPs in recent years under the name Far Caspian. Now the sophisticated indie rocker returns with a debut album 'Ways To Get Out'. The Mic's Kent Stavenuiter breaks down his first ever full length project.
Far Caspian is the project of multi-instrumentalist Joel Johnston - an artist with an undeniable talent for recording, mixing and producing music that conjures nostalgia through upbeat electro-acoustic soundscapes, drenched in reverb. The highly anticipated debut album offers a departure from his previous optimistic and sun-soaked releases, trading them for an honest and vulnerable collection of songs, unearthed by the events of lockdown.
Album opener, I’m Not Where I Need is a fantastic introduction to the tone and themes that are to follow. The track seamlessly layers instrumentation and scattered vocal samples which build towards a huge chorus of electronic bliss: the first of many showcases of Johnston’s mastery in production. The track offers an honest insight into Johnston’s headspace at the time of writing the album, with lyrics such as, “It’s hard to laugh about those things / When all I feel is numb / Always on my phone”. Sharing lyrical similarities with Pretend, it can certainly be considered a prelude to the lead single of the project.
"A truly beautiful composition which commands hairs to stand on their ends."
Pretend, a lockdown collaboration with BOYO, is a standout moment that presents a satisfying blend of acoustic and electric sounds to expertly channel deep emotion - something that Far Caspian does with expertise. In this offering, Johnston asserts, “I don’t need a legacy…I just need to get some sleep”, a display of lyrics grounded in concerns over basic functions and not in life’s profound meaning.
The punchy drums on Get Along do a successful job of keeping the pace of the album moving along. With a catchy hook and head-bopping groove, it ties up a strong run of songs leading the album. This run, unfortunately, is disrupted ever too quickly by the subsequent track, Following the Trend. All the components of an interesting downbeat indie song are present, yet it falls short due to production choices such as an unpleasant digital metronome and static vocal effects. Despite this, the song contains some beautiful instrumental and lyrical moments, “I’m feeling at the edge of social asymptote and I’m feeling close to this” – a clever play on a mathematical phenomenon in which a graphical plot never quite reaches a point, seeming close, yet infinitely far away.
A quick recovery is achieved with Attempt, a recently shared single which hypnotically draws listeners into its groove through a loop-style acoustic intro. The song’s origin is explained on Far Caspian’s Instagram as being conceived in a bout of illness whilst Johnston was awaiting the diagnosis of an auto-immune disease. This explains its cryptic nature: as if a semi-conscious collection of scrambled thoughts. Despite this fact, it still manages to carry great emotional weight by leaving lyrics open to interpretation – something that Johnston encourages in his art.
This album does far more than just churn out foot-tapping indie-pop song one after another; scattered throughout are numerous stripped back, intimate moments. A standout from this collection, and a major highlight of the record, is a delicate duet between Johnston and SOMOH (Sophia Mohan) in Our Past Lives. A truly beautiful composition which commands hairs to stand on their ends. The two echoey voices complement each other perfectly as they ponder, “Don’t you ever feel. How could this be real?”, only adding to the dream-like nature of the piece. Percussion is held back until the halfway point, allowing the song to swell into a rich soundscape topped by synthesisers and distant distorted guitars – a true masterclass in production.
Moon Tower invites you to close your eyes and let its repeating melodies wash over you. The moody instrumentals are a perfect match for the sombre message of the song, “Go ahead; Everyone’s gone / And you’re on your own”. At the midpoint of an album inspired by the transitional stages of early adulthood, this feels particularly poignant. Successfully captured, is a sense of being left behind by friends and peers who have pursued different ventures in life.
"The closer gradually builds to an ethereal climax which fills every inch of stereo space with gorgeous sonics."
However, this gloom doesn’t engulf the remainder of the album. Questions returns to an upbeat feel, with a riff so jovial it borders mockery. A song which, on the surface, projects itself as joyful but the vocal delivery and lyrical content suggest otherwise – an embodiment of the facade many with mental illness wear in front of others.
During a spell of writer’s block, Johnston found himself digging through his past in search of inspiration, rediscovering Plans - a song written in 2014 that manages to remain relevant within the track listing. The single grapples with the idea of rediscovering faith and finding strength in the process. The song carries a naïve optimism - its only giveaway as to being written in his younger years.
The album closes on a colossal high with House, the strongest offering from the collection. With the brutal honesty of lines such as “I don’t like / Much about myself” against a backdrop of sophisticated musical composition, it showcases Far Caspian at their best. The closer gradually builds to an ethereal climax which fills every inch of stereo space with gorgeous sonics - a dramatic representation of Johnston’s escape from depression. The addition of saxophone adds a refreshing quality to the piece, making for an outstanding listen.
Ways To Get Out is a solid debut effort with a real potential to propel Far Caspian towards greater widespread recognition. This isn’t to disregard flaws that the album has: perhaps benefitting from losing a few tracks, which disrupt the pacing and introduce a danger of turning the signature sound stale, (such as Brother and Built by Design). Additionally, many tracks end abruptly and don’t take advantage of an opportunity to blend songs together, creating a better sense of cohesion. However, what is achieved deserves admiration – a cinematic listening experience that will find unexpected ways of moving you, and after all, that’s what music is here for.
Written by: Kent Stavenuiter
Edited by: Elliot Fox
In article images courtesy of Far Caspian via Facebook. Video courtesy of Far Caspian via YouTube.