Every once in a while, there comes a song that seems to find a hidden place in our heart and reach straight into it. These are the songs that, through some magical combination of chords and lyrics, reveal truths that elude our everyday understanding, the truths we push down or avoid for fear of pain, or the ones we suppress while caught in the struggles and banality of our day to day.
“Sand Castles,” our pick for number two on our list of our top seven Phillip Phillips songs so far is a example of a that kind of song.
Released in 2018 as part of Phillip’s third album, Collateral, “Sand Castles” immediately resonated with Phillip’s fans, and more recently, it was the fourth most mentioned song on our informal poll of fans’ top seven songs so far. In an album already full of beautiful, complex and deep songs, “Sand Castles” goes even further in its artistry and its willingness to explore difficult emotional spaces with intelligence and humility. These are places Phillip has been exploring since very early in his career in songs like “A Fool’s Dance” and later in “My Boy,” both songs that capture, with unflinching clarity and honesty, moments of emotional truth we seldom acknowledge or know how to articulate. This is proof of Phillip’s gift as an artist: his ability to distill life into works of beauty we as listeners can see ourselves in.
From the start, “Sand Castles” creates a strong sense of that emotional space with its long, sorrowful first note. Other atmospheric details soon complete the picture: a sparse piano, a bell reminiscent of a lonely buoy in the middle of a foggy ocean: the sense is that we are entering an otherworldly place, an unknown. Loss, both physical through death or separation, or psychological through the loss of dreams and illusions, is a major theme of the song. Musically, the song is atmospheric and cinematic. And though “Sand Castles” is perhaps the most produced song on Collateral, Phillip’s moving and heartfelt vocals, as well as the haunting string arrangement from Dave Eggar (listen to his incredible syncopated cello) keep this song grounded in that raw emotional space.
Indeed, when we talked to Dave Eggar recently, he described “Sand Castles” as an “incredibly emotional song” and “one of the best songs on the record.” Later, he described the inspiration behind the string arrangement, which was the desire to create a sense of dislocation and disorientation as if the song itself were disintegrating: “sand castles are all these things we build in our life we think may work and they don’t work, so what if the arrangement does that, what if the arrangement washes away? And so, in the end, there’s some very experimental use of the violin and cello, it has almost a free jazz influence, that we were working with this idea of almost forgetting how the song went.”
The fragility and impermanence of life, the acceptance that sadness and loss are inevitable, the realization that these things don’t hurt less because we understand them. It’s the complexity of these emotions that make “Sand Castles” work. It’s also a beautiful recording: rich, layered, carefully crafted — a true achievement for Phillip, Todd Clark, who’s a co-writer, Dave Eggar and violinist Heather Mastel-Lipson, and producer Ryan Hadlock.
“Sand Castles” is profound song. It demands attention, emotional investment – its beauty overwhelming at times for this humble fan’s heart.
Read more of our Dave Eggar interview where he talks about “Sand Castles” and all his work on Collateral.
And if you are missing any of Phillip Phillip’s three albums, visit his official site to listen/purchase.
Finally, follow the link to read about our previous top seven picks!