by Midge Manlapig
December 1, 2014 | The Darker Side Of Me
The normal progression for many artists – recording and otherwise – is to begin as a small, independent act that works its way up the proverbial ladder to become, should it be so (un)fortunate, a mass-market success that is but a shadow of the creative original. In the case of Clem Castro aka Clementine, formerly of Orange and Lemons and The Camerawalls, the rules of progression have been thrown out the equally proverbial window by an artist who has decided to go his own sweet way – with amazing results.
The World is Your Oyster is Clementine’s first outing as Dragonfly Collector, a crowd-funded ten-track album that showcases the artist as musician, wordsmith, and storyteller. TWIYO is a journey of sorts: a trip away from the mundane, workaday world and into a whimsical realm built upon lilting rhythms, quirky wordplay, and a deeply spiritual touch that goes beyond mere music.
For those of you familiar with Clementine’s work, this may come as a bit of a shock to the system: the influences are broad – more Western than Eastern this time. There is a hint of Native American storytelling in the disturbingly compelling The Tragic Story of Joshua and Fiedme; a lyrical tragedy that invites the listener to get between the lines and dig up the deeper, darker meaning within. Until the Cows Come Home, composed in tandem with Franki Love, is a throwback to a gentler time when music served as a quieter, more poignant reflection of life; the gentle rhythm playing up tender thoughts as it stirs up the heartstrings. Still more heartfelt isSomeday, Someday Maybe; there is a twinge of wistfulness that is almost heartbreaking to hear, but nevertheless touched with just the faintest hint of hope.
You get a touch of 1970s swing (Timothy, My Own Timothy) as he sings a little tribute/lullaby for a young nephew; kind of reminiscent of the BeeGees in terms of the rhythm but with a somewhat calculated gentleness and a touch of playful whimsy. The same 1970s/whimsical quality can be heard in Dragonfly Collector, a song that will remind those familiar with the artist’s work of The Sight of Love from his Camerawalls period. One also catches glimpses of mid-era Beatles, touches of Donovan and similar folk artists from first musical British Invasion: sweet, but not sugary or cloyingly so; a lighthearted wistfulness seen in playful lyrics, clever uses of idiomatic expressions.
But the strongest songs in the TWIYO tracklist have to be the title track and There is No Remaining in Place. Both songs feature an unusual roster of influences: traditional French music with its sweeping accordion strains and lilting rhythms; then the more intense, commanding guitars characteristic of Spain’s gypsy-influences provinces. Truth be told, The World is Your Oyster is something you would think came off the Amelie soundtrack. And then you get the Andalusian intensity and fire in There is No Remaining in Place – sounds that complement lyrics that reflect the universal truth about change, moving on, surging forward.
One song, though, presents a jarring contrast to the rest of the tracks: Darkness is My Candle. The instrumental intro is reminiscent of two things: post-Beatles John Lennon as well as the Filipino rock scene in the 1970s – think Mike Hanopol and Joey “Pepe” Smith – with its grinding funk and clashing guitars. Interestingly, though, paired with such lines as “I would sell my heart and buy your devotion” it works – and it delivers some serious groove.
One caveat, however: for all the cheerful, perky rhythms, TWIYO has a slightly dark undercurrent running through it. The Saddest Sound talks about life and death point-blank, and the song is bittersweet and poignant – the way life, alas, invariably is. And even the jolly-sounding title track ends with the line “Life is nothing but a joke; laugh and cry while it lasts”: like a grim smirk hidden behind a smiling mask. But it is, in my personal opinion, that gives this album much of its oomph: Clementine’s willingness to look reality in the eye, not quite sugarcoating it, but making it more accessible – and acceptable – to the human psyche.
I understand that he has taken a lot of risks with this specific creative endeavour, but these risks were well taken and are definitely – finally – paying off. The Dragonfly Collector shows himself as someone who isn’t just another mass-market popster or some angsty rocker griping about the System: the man is an artist whose work transcends genres and, given half a chance, can give mainstream musicians something to think about. Let’s just hope that he stays in character for the long haul.