Dragonfly Collector: The World is Your Oyster
(Lilystars Records, 2015)
Yes, a resounding 10 out of 10, because why not? Here’s something to consider: Pinoytuner put out stories for three singles from Clem Castro’s then-forthcoming debut as a solo act (one story accompanied a video we shot of him road-testing “Someday, Someday, Maybe,” a stab-in-the-heart love letter of sorts), and we remain stunned to this day. We knew he was at the very least a decent songwriter, no questions, so our unflinching devotion to this collection we barely knew anything about then—Castro’s shows during the time were, after all, few and far between—was a no-brainer, stakes-less gamble. In each of those features we offered superlatives without buckling. And the one thing I have learned about superlatives is this: they’re almost always about the grand gesture, and yet Oyster has no such hallmarks: no arms-wide-open declarations, no big reveals, no explosive arena outros; it’s all balled-up, fetal smallnesses, of which Castro is evidently a master. There is beauty in every turn, but also in the pervading wallpaper: in the always-ringing, open-chord jangling of his acoustic guitar throughout the record, epidermal but also flesh-deep; it’s in the “minor chord major feels,” as I earlier wrote about the material, as in the meandering waltz-time, tremolo-peppered “There is No Remaining in Place”; it’s in Castro’s calculated vocal stylings in the Paul Simon-Elliott Smith idiom, occasional awkward affectations and fumbling turns of phrase notwithstanding. Oyster bursts through genre walls with its chin up: a grownup’s record in a magnifying-glass millennial world, unconcerned about the scoffing and the ridicule and the ever-wrathful blades of faux-irony. There is true-blue balladry in this collection, and by that I don’t mean Marco Sison or Martin Nievera spewing broken-man vaguenesses; I mean the nineteenth-century musical-narrative form, where the journey from A to B rewards the listener with discernible movement in both tale and sonic space, and, if history was to be chased, can also be danced to. It’s evident in “The Tragic Story of Joshua and Fiedme,” which reverberates with rich sentiment rather hollow sentimentality; it’s in the hard Latin waltz of “The World is Your Oyster” but also in the soft Disney waltz of “Until the Cows Come Home,” simultaneously affective and affecting. And dance away you can: but perhaps a closed-mouth pas de deux, not empty-headed party-variety pogoing. Castro’s lyrics also take a turn for the better, his storytelling trumping his dog-tired platitudes in the past. Moreover, his excursions in form-reliant songwriting—his subtle Wings shout-out in “Timothy, My Own Timothy,” the flamenco romp that is “Oyster,” the standard riffing on “Darkness is My Candle”—go beyond pedestrian homage. So, yes, a perfect score though it hardly matters; what matters is the “imploding of myths” and the artist’s desire to at least attempt it in the first place. Castro did it and emerged a victor.