Lissie spent two albums dwelling in California, first cutting an attempted crossover with Jacknife Lee (2013's Back to Forever) and then creating a West Coast fantasia on 2016's My Wild West, before deciding to relocate to Iowa. Along with the move came a decision to strip away some of the surface sheen of her music. Castles doesn't find Lissie completely abandoning her fusion of shimmering synths and folk-rock, yet the 2018 album finds her shifting focus. Where its two immediate predecessors emphasized production -- a seductive quality, yet one that meant the songs could occasionally take some time to unfold -- Castles puts Lissie's songs at the forefront, using electronics and surging guitars as accents to her moody songs. Throughout the record, the singer/songwriter explores questions of love, loss, and rebirth, sidestepping confessional conventions by constructing songs that are carried as much by melody as by lyric. It also helps that Lissie embraces pop melodicism and atmospheric soul, a combination that lends her songs a sense of anthemic inspiration while avoiding the clichés of motivational AAA pop. As such, Castles exists in a bit of a netherworld -- it's commercial yet idiosyncratic, classic in its structure yet contemporary in its sound -- but it's also a quietly compelling record, revealing an artist who is starting to hit her stride.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine