Monarch Season is a lesson in how to give oneself over to changing tides, shifting moons, and the endless cycle of seasons that colour our lives.
The most profound and lasting lesson I’ve ever gotten out of therapy is the notion that our lives are marked not by milestones or major events but by subtle shifts in our relationships that my therapist referred to as “seasons.” The idea that all relationships — whether with others, with our environment, or with ourselves — have a transitional period that starts long before we realize that things are changing helped me let go of a lot of guilt, resentment, and shame. As a human being, I am as powerless in stopping the ways relationships change in the same way I’m incapable of stopping winter from coming and summer from going.
Somewhere on her journey, Jennifer Castle seems to have encountered that same learning — or at least her own personal approximation of it. Monarch Season, Castle’s follow-up to 2018’s list-toppingAngels of Death, is a simple-sounding record with many complex phases and faces. On the surface, Monarch Season is a minimalist’s dream: just Castle singing and playing guitar, piano, and the occasional harmonica riff. Recorded in her home off Lake Erie’s shores, these songs are subtly shaded in by nature’s noises creeping into the recording via her kitchen’s open window. It’s in this barest of musical settings that some of Castle’s grandest lyrical musings flourish.
Much has been made of Monarch Season‘s prescience, an album recorded in isolation long before we had isolation imposed upon us. In press materials preceding the album’s release, Castle calls these songs her “new plays”, and in many ways, songs sung in the first person like “I’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Broken Hearted” feel like soliloquies. On the latter, Castle wonders, “All the time / that passes in between us / Will it bring us nearer / To finding peace within?”; on the former, she realizes, “I’ll never walk alone or be homeless / My home is forever my bones”. While Castle may have gotten the jump on the rest of us, her solitary meditations on the nature of love and relationships reflect the complexity and complications we have all been experiencing. Who among us hasn’t found themselves lost and spiralling through internal philosophical monologues these past few months? However, few have the creative power to distill those thoughts into artistic impressions as beautiful and profound as Castle’s collection of scenes-as-songs.
Castle says that Monarch Season is meant to remind us to “cherish openly that which reflects off and onto [us].” It’s also a lesson, in its quiet and simple way, in how to give oneself over to changing tides, shifting moons, and the endless cycle of seasons that colour our lives.