I should be offended. Ray Raposa’s Castanets were undoubtedly one of the best acts to emerge from San Diego in the last five years, and just when the rest of the country begins to take notice, Raposa up and moves to Brooklyn. Seriously, guys, isn’t it enough that you’ve got bragging rights for TV on the Radio, Grizzly Bear and a rather sizeable chunk of the history of hip-hop? Guess not. Like I said, I should be offended, but I’m not. And it has everything to do with Castanets’ third album, In the Vines.
The back story behind In the Vines is that the album was inspired by a lengthy bout of depression, capped by Raposa’s own mugging outside of his Bedford apartment. He hasn’t had the best year, and I certainly won’t begrudge a man when he’s down. More importantly, Raposa catalyzed that year of darkness and depression into his own dark and haunted wonder of a third album. While the style of the music on In the Vines follows the path Raposa tread on its predecessors, 2004′s Cathedral and 2005′s First Light’s Freeze, it opens up an entirely new sonic territory, equally unsettling and compelling.
There’s a ghostly looseness about In the Vines, as if each song is controlled by its own specters, making its release date, eight days before Halloween, seem all too fitting. It’s hard to listen to “Sway” without having the sensation of chills running up and down one’s spine, the reverberating strings and voices like communiqués from the beyond. The minute-long instrumental “The Fields Crack” is even creepier in its sparse ambient weeping. Yet while these songs cower in crevices, nooks and crannies, Raposa takes on greater extremes elsewhere, brashly flaunting his experimental side as a garish cloak wrapped around his rustic songwriting. “Rain Will Come” best exemplifies this jarring mixture, a dusty folk song that ends in transmissions of noisy squealing and horrific feedback.
Raposa finds moments in between his eerier or more disturbing tendencies to strum out a charming, gospel-tinged country song, such as “This Is the Early Game,” which finds him singing the charming lines “It’s trouble like this made me think of you/ and all the trouble we got into.” Likewise, “Westbound, Blue” is far more upbeat, even a bit catchy, finding a sprightly melody to puncture the dread and distress. The best moments occur when these worlds merge, such as on the Southwestern sounding “Strong Animal,” built on a bed of tribal drums, echoing like distant thunder, over which a lap steel glides alongside an exotic, reverb-heavy guitar.
Had I not known beforehand that Raposa had relocated to New York, I certainly couldn’t have reached that conclusion upon hearing In the Vines. This is music from a deep and dark rural heart of America, a very weird and decidedly non-cosmopolitan place. From this shadowy, imaginary hideaway, Raposa has spun a beautiful and raw work of art. It’s not a “traditional” Americana album by any means, but it’s built from gut-wrenching, unbearably real emotion, and that emotion comes through stronger than any instrument.