Review by Austin Sisson
The sophomore album Castaway from L.A. bootgaze outfit Tashaki Miyaki stays true to its name, floating serenely through a sea of lovely sounds, awash in echoes and sunlight. But unlike the titular Castaway, this trio knows exactly where they’re going, and it’s this sense of direction that elevates them high above the crowded and often homogenous dream pop scene.
Castaway is anything but homogenous, in large part because of the sheer number of instruments on the album. On my first listen, I quickly identified maracas, lap steel, saxophone, violin, cello, synth, a grand piano, and a swath of guitar effects that demonstrates the range of the instrument better than anything I’ve heard this year.
The lush title track opens the album as majestically as Roxy’s Avalon, bobbing along on streams of synth while a Casio drumbeat bubbles underneath. The undercurrent is that guitar tone, you know the one; the low, western jangle beloved by Morricone, Lynch and Tarantino, resonant and cinematic and singular. The choice to bring in a distinct instrument line on every track—be it guitar, piano, or violin—is a real boon, and the instrumentation on Castaway gives each song its own sparkle. Even as Paige Stark beckons you to drift away with languid lines like “I don’t understand time/where is it going to?/how will this end for us?” and “Out at sea/you and me,” the guitar acts as an anchor.
You can trace Tashaki’s lineage in myriad directions, from Cowboy Junkies and Mazzy Star to Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood and The Carpenters. The key to this map of influences is Tashaki’s stellar cover of The Association’s classic “Never My Love,” which appeared on 2020’s compilation Under Cover, Vol. 2. It illuminates their love of sixties music while demonstrating their aptitude for nodding to those bright, flowery feelings with a 21st century gravitas.
Castaway, too, is bursting with affection for sixties mainstays, even as it expands to include the following decades. Second track “Help Me” begins with a jangly riff that mirrors The Byrd’s cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man”, blending effortlessly with an “Against the Wind”-esque piano solo and a fuzzy, “Exit Music For a Film” guitar buzz. Sixties, eighties, nineties—woven into an eternal paisley braid. In the hands of a lesser band, some of these elements would feel derivative. Tashaki wears them like well-fitting vintage jeans.
“Comedown” is the most Mazzy. In fact, it shares enough dobro-tinged DNA with “Fade Into You” that I wonder if the title is a reference to “Coming Down,” Dum Dum Girls’ stellar “Fade Into You” tribute. It’s easy to imagine the members of all three L.A. bands sharing a beer and a laugh in some basement bar.
“I Feel Fine” effortlessly taps into the west coast malaise that defined the more tender moments of Hole and darker dreams of Sheryl Crow, somewhere between “Boys on the Radio” and “If It Makes You Happy.” Resignation without bitterness, wry wit without sarcasm, wrapped up in the lyric “I love you but I can’t stand you.”
‘U” is a quietly stormy affair that evokes mountain rain dripping through pine needles, even as lush strings, borrowed chords and warm harmonies promise sun behind the clouds. “Alone” kicks off the back third of the album by reminding us that you can’t make a proper dream pop album without a waltz (and it’s a lovely one). “Forget Me” has an ELO jauntiness to it—staccato strings building to a birdsong vocal that lingers on waves of reverb. “Good Times” is a triumphant closer with a sing-along chorus, bolstered by a small orchestra of fluttering brass and synth sounds. The loping, feedback-laden bridge and outro swerve into shoegaze territory but don’t spend too long out in the void.
It’s the human touch on “Good Times” that makes this album so special; it deftly flirts with psychedelia without foisting any expectations of chilly detachment on the listener. You don’t have to be “in the right headspace” to enjoy this record. It carries you to that headspace, gently, but with purpose. If we’re the castaways on Castaway, the band isn’t looking down on us from some aloof artist crow’s nest. They’re down here floating with us, and the water is warm.