Is Taylor Castro the next Mega Star? That will be for time to tell, but all the indicators seem to forecast a storm brewing; and the Florida-born and Atlanta-based singer, songwriter, screenwriter, and actress is at the dead center of it all. At just 22 years of age, Taylor draws millions and millions of streams through her towering wonder-woman-like vocals and the literary refinement of her lyrics.
“I love both music and acting so much, but I consider myself a storyteller, first and foremost,” she confesses, which truly gives a timeless quality to her music, as a great voice alone cannot carry an artist. I believe that the traditional narrative foundation she’s building her musical career upon will be the key to her longevity in the industry and the endurance of her work long after she’s retired.
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here. In the present time, Taylor’s career is basically just getting started, her independent sophomore album “Girl, Afraid” just came out, with the titular track being a confessional journal entry detailing her struggle with OCD. A little while back, it would go to garner her the Hollywood Music in Media Award of 2021 for “Best Female Vocalist”.
There’s a strong undercurrent of melancholy to “Girl, Afraid”, however, it is in the service of the transformative and uplifting words that Taylor wishes to impart. Each song is a microcosm that contains the whole of the album, which really sells the record as a concept album whose over-arching narrative can still be grasped from any couple of songs sampled at random.
– “Impure” & “Girl, Afraid”
The first two tracks in the album are the haunting “Impure” and the jaw-dropping “Girl, Afraid” respectively, with the first being a very nice and short introduction that sets the mood just right. I do wish however that the two tracks were immediately connected to the point where both can and should be listened to together, “Impure” merely fades away, and “Girl…” just starts. Now both tracks and exceedingly beautiful but there’s a bit of a missed chance there in arrangement/mixing. By itself, “Girl, Afraid” is a stunning titular track that spells out very clearly the kind of emotional power and reach of Taylor’s smokey vocals. I feel like I need to praise the inclusion of a guitar solo in there, and boy do I hope that becomes a mainstay of her music for years to come.
The third track in the album is “Cool”, and in a departure from the warm acoustic and analog musical arrangement of the previous track, it does get a colder electronic sound that is firmly planted in Pop soil. This change in sound puts Taylor’s voice deeper into perspective, gaining hints of Shakira and Cher that’ll make you raise both eyebrows; remember that this girl is only 22 years of age
This song is one for the books, in my opinion. The Blues-Rock and Powerpop anthem takes deep inspiration from Taylor’s love of literature and makes the tragic figure of hamlet’s Ophelia into a survivor of heartache; who instead of drowning herself “drowns her sorrows” to love another day as it where.
“Ophelia’s Flowers” is one of my favorites in the entire album, I really low how straightforward and clever it is, not just in its creative license but also in the way it combines the electronic and classic elements together so seamlessly.
Using a simple percussive line and some dreamy ethereal harmonic, “Preacher man” shifts the focus entirely on Taylor’s voice, and what an incredible display it is. The song takes strong hints of trip-hop, all the while Castro sings a foxy neo-soul power anthem. The song is sassy and bold in a way we’ve not yet heard Castro sing in this album so far.
Perhaps Abyss is unjustly surrounded by too many really good songs on both sides because -while the lyrics themselves are fantastic- I did not find the sound to be very noteworthy to my taste, the music comes off as standard-fare late 2000s MTV pop and It’s frankly not something that appeals to me. Still, the lyrics are very much praiseworthy, they’re almost metal, I mean look at this:
“And in the ash, I see a fickle formed philosophy
Seeping through the words on your page
I heard a beating heart tangled in your broken breath
And now I can’t cease burning my brain”
With a very energetic sound, “Coffee Eyes” makes a strong impression that rekindles my investment immediately, It’s no wonder they chose this song for a music video (Featuring… steampunk monkeys??). The song has an exciting and fun progression that elevates it (mood-wise) above every previous song so far.
This kind of fun and wild aspect to Taylor would have felt missing from the album had it not been so strategically placed at the near-halfway point!
This song takes elements from the previous 3 and recombines them into a very interesting little song. It’s very firmly Pop like “Abyss”, but unlike that song, I found this one to be much more appealing and musically interesting; part of it due to some soulful steel-string-trickery (watch out for it) and partly due to the more colorful use of Taylor’s voice and shifts.
This song is one of the high points of the album. The sound is as grand as Taylor’s singing, making the soundscape that this song inhabits feel exciting and larger-than-life.
“Avoiding Me” makes use of some funky elements here and some EDM there that escalates into this euphoric anthem that is impossible to ignore; who could possibly want to avoid her?
The aptly-titled 10th track brings things back down to basics, to the melancholic vibe of the first few tracks. With the unfailing and simple combination of a piano and the emotional vulnerability of her vocals, Taylor Castro uses the short track as a transition unto the next stage of her album, an intentionally-placed palate cleanser for this multi-course meal that is still far from over.
Starts off close to where gravity left us. The song begins from a low emotional place using a tender guitar and a sweet vocal delivery from Taylor before suddenly swelling into an uplifting song about a one-sided love affair.
In the Calm that follows the storm, “Call Me” sits thematically close to the previous song, only much more emotionally charged and set in a lower mood registry. A heart-breaking ballad, “Call Me” carries downtempo and trip-hop sensibilities within to become this really intimate jam session between listener and singer in a way that had yet to materialize in the album so far.
In “Jade”, Taylor takes us back to her early teens in an examination of how friendships grow closer and then apart through the passage of time and the dramas that shape every person into a different version of themselves. The track feature’s Taylor’s signature vulnerable writing style in what she’s described as her most personal song yet, and one that has helped her truly define her personal sound.
-“Muse With a Dagger”
Another One of Taylor’s literature-inspired songs. We’ve covered “Muse With A Dagger here on Ladygunn before by interviewing Taylor Herself about it. (you can read that Here: https://www.ladygunn.com/music/interviews-music/taylor-castro-mythological-dramaturgy/)
The song makes use of mythological imagery to deliver its narrative in which two people fall in love in spite of the fact that they’re expected and encouraged to be enemies by the socio-cultural cliques they come from.
Curiously biblical name for the last song in the album. Judgment day begins its closing argument with a heartbeat and a gentle piano melody that slowly beings to swell all around Taylor. the hints of orchestral composition become overt and domineering with a set of strings that very slyly make their way into the track as an angelic presence punctuating what must be Taylor’s most beautiful singing for the entire album. The song is of course a perfect send-off that closes the narrative with that same heartbeat, in a sense saying that after long struggles, life indeed goes on.
Though “Pure” will always be Taylor Castro’s debut album, I think “Girl, Afraid” is everything and more you could possibly ask of a sophomore album, and it will prove to be far more decisive in her career than you might think at first. This record effectively demonstrates -without a doubt- Taylor’s proficiency as a young songwriter and the range of musical styles she’s able to materialize with her imposing vocal prowess. “Girl, Afraid” marks a transition into a more solid sound, where Taylor has deftly claimed the confidence and experience she will need for the road ahead.
I found that the Album’s name is speaking about the past because Taylor is definitely not afraid of the future.
Story: Samuel Aponte Photos:Jacob Azanghi