At The Medieval Castle Nineteen 100-Year Lifetimes Since
Lo-fi often gets a bad rap, thanks in part to the deluge of total crap that has seen release in the last fifteen to twenty years, when suddenly there was commercial interest in it and home recording and replication became easy and affordable. One has to look back to the 1980s for the good stuff. I don’t mean to be a purist about it, but it’s hard to forget how special lo-fi could be when it was music made in a vacuum, with its creators having no expectations—or-hopes—of being professional or press darlings.
Departmentstore Santas was the project of Joseph D’angelo, a young man from California, and that’s about as much info as one can get. There’s a band listed here, but, again, not much else is known. And, really, that’s part of the charm of the lo-fi genre and to At The Medieval Castle Nineteen 100-Year Lifetimes Since, the band’s sole release from 1984, and a highly sought-after release at that.
Though comparisons are made to Daniel Johnston—then an unknown quantity to even the most underground scenes—the sixteen songs here definitely owe more than a passing resemblance to Half Japanese—and that’s no lazy comparison.D’Angelo doesn’t possess the same kind of voice as the Fair brothers, he does have a knack for writing songs that are both quirky and weird lyrically like “Monkeys and Organ Grinders” and “Photo Album Of Baby,” and then turning around and writing some deeply heart-felt songs like “Lost At Sea” and the album’s best, most developed number, “A Song For A Sunny Day.” Furthermore, there are a number of instrumentals that are simply gorgeous in their simplicity, whether it be the trumpet solo of “Jewel Of The Hills,” the guitar of “Kids On A Merry-Go-Round In Eucalyptus Park,” and the New Wave surf fun of “W.”
They were never going to be famous, and probably couldn’t have ever envisioned a time when their lo-fi home recordings would come close to mainstream underground recognition. But what D’Angelo left behind with At The Medieval Castle Nineteen 100-Year Lifetimes Since is a document about the power of music in its most primal, unpolished, undiluted form.