“The Perfect Ending,” the lead single from Cassels’ third record of the same name, begins with 25 seconds of birds chirping, eventually launching into a pulverizing guitar riff backed by even heavier drums. For the next 35 seconds, Jim and Loz Beck, two brothers originally from Oxford, rock the hell out, going through multiple different movements as if they’re trying on clothes while shopping, never allowing themselves to get into a groove before moving on to something else.
But suddenly, the guitar feedback gives way, and we’re left with a downtempo song with a playful, clean guitar line and muted drums as lead singer and guitarist Jim Beck muses about impending climate-related doom and a public that “Focuses their attentions on upgrading their iPhone 21s to the brand new iPhone 22” instead of saving themselves. They even threaten a major crescendo in the bridge, but decide to tease the listener instead, surprising with a guitar line so quiet that it might as well not be there at all. That earlier false crescendo finally erupts about a minute later in one of the more epic builds we’ve heard in quite some time. It’s a thrilling moment from an endlessly clever band. It’s truly the perfect ending.
Though Cassels have been around for a few years—they released two records in 2017: Foreword and Epithet—they’re one of the more exciting sounds to come out of the U.K. in quite some time. It’s easy to compare them to their British post-punk contemporaries, but they’re in a league of their own on The Perfect Ending, combining Black Midi’s strange grooves with the emotional contradictions of Shame and IDLES, yet with wittier and more poetic lyrics. They take on the issues of the day, from sexual assault to global warming, in surreal ways while somehow fitting dozens of conflicting musical ideas into a succinct release. It’s simultaneously angry and joyous, pessimistic and impassioned. But above all, it’s infinitely fascinating.
Take “The Queue at the Chemists” for example. Opening with a riff that wouldn’t feel completely out of place on Bloc Party’s debut album, Jim Beck channels Art Brut as he speak-sings, “How can I be expected to care about an abstract and nebulous problem like a dying planet / When I’m forced to queue for over 20 minutes / To replenish my cod-liver oil stocks at the chemists?” Riffs are aplenty here as Cassels list off the minor daily inconveniences to distract us from the looming death of our planet: unanswered emails, boring lunches and more. It all builds up to the final verse, which sees the Beck brothers absolutely explode in a hands-in-the-air climax: “Did you believe the bell-bottomed free-loving tree-huggers? No, I didn’t either / It kind of felt like we should maybe do something but in the end doing nothing seemed a lot easier / As we fell to our knees and pleaded a woman in a white coat screamed at us / ‘You fools! A virus cannot reason with a fever!’” It’s the sort of song that would kill in a tiny, sweaty DIY venue.
No two songs are alike on The Perfect Ending, a record that refuses to become predictable. It’s a vital album that demands a close read of the lyric sheet and multiple listens to fully grasp everything. It’s an extremely detail-oriented and hyper-literate release, one that soars when given the space to. It sums up millennial political pessimism to a tee on nine songs that can be both beautiful and grim with a dash of blasé and sardonic humor at the same time—but always impeccably shrewd and captivating.