It has been ten years since Castanets’ lauded debut Cathedral emerged during the psychedelic folk mini-boom of the early noughties. In it the Portland based (quelle suprise) singer-songwriter Raymond Raposa established himself as a figure head of the movement along the west coast. Now a decade and several side projects later Raposa returns as Castanets for his sixth album, an inequal mix of blues, gothic, psychedelia, country, and flat out surrealism.
If all this sounds alienating to newcomers, tough; Castanets knows what it does and does so confidently throughout. Songs often feel sparse, as though recorded half way through the night in some desolate shed in the middle of nowhere (given how publicity-shy Raposa is, it’s a distinct possibility). Raposa’s drawl is punctuated with lo-fi keyboards and electronic drums, often with some ominous organ droning in the background. While not strictly a concept album, these tracks feel suitably post-apocalyptic, complimenting such lyrics as ‘To Look Over The Grounds’ which detail The Four Horsemen despairing over who will guard their wasteland as they move further on. The whole thing feels as though Raposa may have a kindred spirit in David Lynch (particularly musically; fans of Lynch’s albums may find something of interest in this offering).
Nonetheless Raposa finds time to “open up the doors, the windows/…take you out dancin’” on ‘Black Bird Tune’ and others midway through the album. While by far the most conventional songs on the album, they offer up some breathing room for Raposa to show the breadth of his talents. These include ‘Thunder Bay’ (eerily akin to a Harvest-era Neil Young) and ‘Out For the West’, where Raposa recites a peculiar landscape of Nike shoes, old basketball games and the DVD cover of Milk.
If the album appears eccentric, it’s to Raposa’s credit that it never feels forced. For example, using Autotune on the acoustic ‘Tell Them Memphis’ comes across as more inspired than imposed. There’s never the impression that he’s playing to any crowd either. Listen if you feel like dipping your toes into avant-garde genre experiments, perhaps stick to Mumford and Sons if not. Though more uneven than his best work, after a decade with this project he has nothing left to prove to anyone.