"A Spy in the House of God" is the unveiling of the year. Nick Castro, who spent a year working on this album, emerged from his cocoon at the Million Tongues Festival in Chicago. Shortly after, "A Spy in the House of God" was released into the world. With psychedelic nods and dreamlike imagery, Castro is a master craftsman. His songs flicker in the air like distant stars; they're subtle at first glance, but as you dig deeper, you realize how immense they really are.
This record opens with the mighty "Jack of All Seasons." This might be the best opening track on any album released in 2004. It's organic drone opening and machine-like chiming lead into a delicate acoustic ballad. When listening to Castro, I envision two star-crossed lovers, frolicking in the autumn air. Under a canopy of red, orange, and gold, there is nothing that can ruin these moments. "Jack of All Seasons" is a celebration of the simple beauty that is found in pure love. There's an underlying innocence in Castro's words that are highlighted by ringing glockenspiel accents. On the outro, an acoustic guitar solo dances with maracas and shakers. It's the aural equivalent of watching these two lovers disappear across the horizon, into the sun bleached sky. It's an amazing piece of music.
One thing that sets "A Spy in the House of God" from other, similar, albums are the instrumental passages interspersed between the more song-oriented material. "Zoey" is the most memorable example. Its rhythmic industrial clatter is hypnotic. Various instruments make an appearance throughout this track, but the most impressive part is when heavily reverbed vocals float on either side of the mix. I feel like I'm hearing the traumatic journey of a ghost looking for a way out of purgatory and into the afterlife. It's haunting. I also love how it seamlessly flows into the next track, "If Your Soul Could Sing." This song offers more melodic insights into Castro's skull. The brilliant sequencing of this record cannot be understated. It flows perfectly.
But it doesn't end there. In fact, there is not a weak moment on "A Spy in the House of God." It's an album that reaches out and grabs you, never letting go until the last notes of the closing track, "Ordinary Life" fade to black. With it's 1950s AM Radio quality, "Ordinary Life" is the story of a time and place where things were simple. Shades of Simon Finn creep up, especially in the pop-infused chorus. "He once had a wife, she didn't understand him much," he bellows. "But he didn't mind," he continues. There's heartbreaking beauty in this song about missed opportunities and the inevitability of death. It closes the album with an inspired whisper, urging you to take chances you might normally pass up and to seize moments as they appear.
Nick Castro may be a new and unfamiliar face at the moment, but expect that to change as "A Spy in the House of God" permeates the airwaves. This is a masterful record, carefully crafted by an excellent songwriter. Highly recommended. 9/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)