Daimon Alexandrius is a Jackson, NJ-based musician. Performing with Karmic Juggernaut and having contributed to groups including Elevator Art, Remember Jones and Bone and Marrow, Ode to the Fantastic Castle is Alexandrius’s first completely solo-recorded project.
The album is actually one long piece in eight movements, and serves as an exploration into the life of eccentric New Jersey figure George Daynor, who constructed the Palace of Depression in Vineland after losing his fortune in the Great Depression. Slyly peddling half-truths about his construction and constantly building notoriety in his community, Daynor claimed an angel gave him a vision of the architectural plans and even courted scandal by claiming the institution was involved in a kidnapping. Opening in 1932, the Palace fell into disrepair after a fire, and was razed five years after Daynor’s death in 1964, though the Vineland community has made steps towards restoration of the site. The piece itself is 18 minutes long, a reference to the 18 spires of the original building meant to serve as perches for angels.
The first movement is “Subterranean” referring to the Palace’s Subterranean Caverns. After a dreamy intro of guitar and chimes it is later joined with an expressive flute. Building to a huge presence, the arrangement clears out for gentler guitar and mallets, upon which the vocals arrive.
A back and forth between a soft angelic voice and a bold tenor likely representing Daynor himself, “Subterranean” establishes the mysterious, exciting nature of the whole Palace project, using folk textures and experimental intensity to a Sufjan Stevens-like effect. The repeated refrain of “God is my witness” demonstrates Daynor’s conviction that his undertaking was the will of God.
“Voices” is a funky acoustic track with a searing electric guitar lead. The lyrics question the reality the singer is seeing, though the point of view is vague. Alexandrius claims it could be Daynor, or even the land itself, bearing witness to Daynor’s vision and the future construction of the Palace. The dreamy blurring of reality is enhanced by the spacey folk sound of the movement, evoking a stripped-down Fleet Foxes.
“Welcome to the Knockout Room” brings the quirky, busy vibe of the construction of the Palace out of junk. An instrumental piece in 5/4, acoustic guitars and splashy percussion meet twinkling glockenspiel and searing electric guitar to evoke a frenetic, yet purposeful environment. The music has some of Daynor’s well-known aphorisms, creating an atmosphere not unlike a bizarre circus. Alexandrius took inspiration from Daynor’s ‘Stone Age music’ that accompanied his tours, with metal percussion and even brass instruments.
“This is the Man and this is the House” is where the concept of the Palace finally breaches the public consciousness. As if he is guiding us into his creation, Alexandrius sings from Daynor’s perspective in a loose, Decemberists-like acoustic number. Though reaching a sort of emotional peak, the track guides directly into the next one, leading from the excitement of the Palace’s opening to the purpose Daynor felt it should serve.
“Eighteen Spires” explains what the 18 spires of the Palace represent, and then chronicles Daynor’s fall from grace after a fashion. After misleading the FBI during an investigation to generate notoriety for his attraction, Daynor lost favor and spent time in prison, taking him away from his divinely-inspired palace. Though the preceding movement represents a triumph, “Eighteen Spires” takes its musical themes and turns them slightly to make a haunting acoustic number.
The piece once again seamlessly transitions into “Ruins” which speaks to the financial and social ruin of Daynor after his imprisonment, as well as the literal disrepair of the Palace after a fire and incidents of vandalism. Washes of deeply revered electric guitar punctuate a barren finger-picked guitar arrangement, which grows as Alexandrius sings “I just can’t bear to let you all / see you this way.” Once again loosely speaking for both Daynor and the Palace itself, Alexandrius shows the deep interrelation between the man and his life’s work.
“The Devil and his Gold” is less mournful, wherein Daynor takes an appreciative look at all his accomplishments. From success in the Alaskan gold rush to financial ruin in the Depression, he took that tumult and turned it into the motivation for making his ultimate gift to the world. Though it also ended with him destitute, the journey showed him always in pursuit of greatness - “beating the devil to his gold.” As a conclusion to the performed music on the album, the sprightly Appalachian sounds let Daynor’s story seem to float away into the hills.
The record concludes with “The Hidden River” a field recording of a running river and all the nature surrounding it. Showing earth reclaiming its space after the rise and fall of a strange monument, the soft environmental ambience lets the listener deconstruct the quick and tumultuous tale. It’s an interesting way to conclude an ambitious project in itself, but Alexandrius has risen to the challenge. Ode to the Fantastic Castle is appropriately broad and quirky, and its creation by one man mirrors its narrative content in an interesting way. If you’re looking for a weird slice of New Jersey history from a (talented) person who’s passionate about it, this record will be stimulating and enlightening.
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