Album review: Tashaki Miyaki – ‘Castaway’: LA dream poppers embrace a West Coast pop-glamour hush

The Breakdown

Is there a louder, more brash record in here fighting to get out? There quite possibly is. And that would also entirely miss the point. Tashaki Miyaki's second channels a pop purity unashamedly, and quietly. A dreamy late night record with a lover; a Sunday morning groove; an album for a freeway cruise with no particular place to go, it all works. Embrace the sugar-in-the-veins hush.

LOS ANGELINO trio Tashaki Miyaki really do put the dream into dreampop, with a deliciously languorous, hazy cast to their music, which seems to call on the Mary Chain, Lush, Hole, Mazzy Star, soothe them into a shoegazey drowse; and they’ve a new album, Castaway, out now on July 2nd – slightly delayed – on Metropolis Records.

The new album sees the trio of drummer-singer Paige Stark, guitarist Luke Paquin and bassist and backing vocalist
Sandi Denton tackle the big personal themes – love, memory and time – in a waking stretch of melody.

In a recent interview for NYLON, Paige revealed more about the concepts at play on the new record. “Castaway is about the challenges of romantic love and how we are all bad at it in one way or another,” she said therein.

“No matter how hard we try, at some point we are going to fail and hurt ourselves or our partners,” she adds.

This theme pervades the album. Paige sings from the heart, of the heart; she’s been burned, as we all have, she knows the pain. But aside from the unblinking lyricism there’s an optimism about the human condition, relationships, memory; the passing of time and change.

“The idea of a castaway in all this is that no one understands the relationship except the people in it, so you really are stuck on an island alone,” she says. 

Castaway features guest appearances from The Heartbreaker’s Benmont Tench, multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion (who scored Magnolia, I Heart Huckabees and more) and sees the band push sonically on from 2017’s album, The Dream.

Paige says: “We tried to incorporate new soundscapes. Like, what if there isn’t as much reverb on everything? What would be the less obvious sonic choice here? What if everything isn’t as fuzzy and smeary? What sounds have we not tried? What if we let stuff be a little naked?”

She also pushes the lyrical boundaries forward from the band’s 2017 album: When I wrote the title track, I was thinking about love and how it changes over time if you stay in something long enough. It gets hard.

And sometimes you feel stuck, and that’s kind of the mood of the record. It’s a pretty melancholy record, I guess. I always try to be direct, but I didn’t have as much life lived on the first record. I saw things very black and white, and perhaps simpler. Now I see a lot more grey and a lot more complexity.“

Tashaki Miyaki, photographed by Marc Gabor

“Castaway was a record born out of frustration.” Paige says; I felt stuck in every single aspect of life, and writing was my way of venting.” And the record opens with the title track, an unhurried, melodic pop song about the challenges of depression and long-term relationships. “Give me a reason to cry / It’s been so long since I had feeling / I don’t remember why I do anything / What am I doing here?” Paige asks; yearns, as electronic percussion lays out a mellow path. Instrumentally, you’ll get mid-Seventies’ Roxy, maybe even paisley Prince at his genre-straddling height; and the gently heartsore pop of Spector’s girl groups. On the melancholy chorus she sings: “I don’t want to be the one to love you / I’m no good at it / Oh well, I guess that we are stuck together like two castaways out at sea / You and me.”

It’s a blissful nugget of leftfield guitar pop, the guitars lapping Paige’s vocal shore like the waves in the video; and for that, see just below there. It would make an excellent sunset tune, for sure.

Paige also shot the video, which was inspired by Sofia Coppola, saying: “I wanted to tap into all the feelings that can come up in relationships: anger, sadness, loneliness, vulnerability, stillness, joy, romance, longing.

“The actress in it has a beautifully expressive face and I’ve known her for a long time. I knew we would be able to create those moments together. I wanted it to feel like the camera was her lover, capturing her in various private moments, moods and feelings.”

“Help Me” has a Byrdsian, even Lemonheads 12-string chime and crispness, and sees Paige singing in one of those moments when life whirls you round. “I’m not gonna fight it, how I feel right now,” she sings with a pillow talk delicacy, her voice so gentle; “If there’s something you know, will you help me?” While that first guitar fingerpicks with an indie-country warmth, a fuzz-driven companion joins in from the back seat, and a neat little piano break brings a timeless class.

“Gone” is a proper dreamy slow burn, on which Paige asks some to be ex-lover: “What’ll you do when I’m gone? / You’re gonna miss me / She won’t know the way to turn you on / You’re gonna miss me.” Its delivered with the gentle finality of a love-light extinguished, not without regret, but with a centredness, a groundedness. And it really hits the motherlode of the grand pop; doesn’t overplay its hand, sleepily caresses out on a long coda with strings and Paige cooing a cycling, wordless hook that brings to mind an all-time bittersweet classic you didn’t know you hadn’t heard already. A song for tears on your pillow.

“Comedown” is fine LA country-rock with shimmer and hush, a real languor that gently kicks ass as the guitar break ratchets through barely tamed feedback. It’s really rather deft, the way the band handle these songs with a gentleness; which continues in the campfire acoustic whisper of “Baby Don’t”, a plea not to give up which sounds like it was delivered in a tight, emotional embrace.

You can see the the classily monochromed video for “I Feel Fine” down at the end, the first real essay on the album into that delicious shoegaze guitar bend. It’s so very dreamstate, the microtonal shifts; the muted drumming a propulsive hint. We’re told it’s a homage to Paige’s favourite vampire films and it sees two glamorous bloodsuckers (and in best vampire tradition, aren’t they though? The epitome of style) flutter into consciousness, get stylishly noir togged up for a night on the town, find a victim to seduce.

And as the band explain, it was one of the last tracks to come into being for the new album. With recording almost completed, the trio felt they were just one track of what they needed.

“I wrote ‘I Feel Fine’ at the beginning of Covid-19 unfolding and it felt like it belonged to the record. I said lot of the things my friends were saying to me about their lives, so it felt right to add it,” Paige explains. “I was inspired by the emotion of The Replacements’ song ‘Unsatisfied’ and wanted to write my own ode to dissatisfaction.

“I always say I’m fine when it’s quite the contrary, so I started there and got more and more specific with each verse.” 

The video was shot in East Los Angeles and was directed by Paige. It’s an homage to her favorite vampire films, such as A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Only Lovers Left Alive, and Fifties’ glamour.

“I am imagining the vampires died in the 1950s, so they’re still wearing the clothes of their time,” she says of a video in which the band make their screen debut. “And who doesn’t love a good vampire moment?”

“U” is a ballad with an almost-Suede semi-tonal riff, glam majesty repurposed for a quieter place. “People are awful / Good is hard to find/ But I’m learning,” sings Paige in stark but vocally placid revelation, caressed by strings. It’s a coming of songwriting age that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Laura Nyro or Hope Sandoval album. And “Wasting Time” travels further up the Laurel Canyon on a bed of big guitar chords and 70s’ rock piano.

“Alone” is a classic tearjerker, 6/8 time and all; abraded with fuzz guitar, deepened by a David Roback atmospheric slide break, lent majesty by the building strings. “Forget Me” threads a creamy, Cocteaus guitar sound to a sad blue note girl group pop; and the album recedes from view in its longest track, “Good Times”, which has delicious, overdriven guitar surge and a chattering synth line, within which Paige floats. The track builds in an odyssey of fiery feedback guitar, reminiscent of fellow Los Angelino Cory Hanson’s Pale Horse Rider from earlier this year, and closes thus on a high.

As an album, Castaway casts a plumb line line back to the Shangri-Las and Shirelles through Slowdive and a little of the cracked glamour of Hole; taps into Best Coast’s (to me, squandered) early promise; the Vivian Girls, even. It’s a very LA record, having an instinctive, unforced glamour, but on many tracks you can sense the desert at its back, whispering with a lightly acid

It’s also never overplayed, quite consciously is reined in; is there a louder, more brash record in here fighting to get out? There quite possibly is. And that would also entirely miss the point. Tashaki Miyaki’s second channels a pop purity unashamedly, and quietly. A dreamy late night record with a lover; a Sunday morning groove; an album for a freeway cruise with no particular place to go, it all works. Embrace the sugar-in-the-veins hush.

Tashaki Miyaki’s Castaway will be released by Metropolis Records digitally and on limited edition pale blue vinyl on July 2nd; pre-orders are now being taken at Bandcamp.

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