The curious paradox of Castanets is that while no two of their albums sound all that much alike, each one is uniquely Castanets. From the gothic Americana of Cathedral, to the electronic tinged First Light’s Freeze, the sparse In the Vines and the moody, largely instrumental City of Refuge, each Castanets album is a mere sliver of the distinctive style that Ray Raposa has built up over the past six years. In each record there’s a sense of haunted desolation, though it may be manifest in different ways, be it through an icy, Moog-driven groove, or a bare pluck of an acoustic guitar. But in spite of that desolation, each of these records is easily approachable. Admittedly some are more user friendly than others, but even in his darkest of hours, singer and songwriter Ray Raposa gives the listener a sense of ease and of comfort with his warm, creaky vocals.
That warmth is made all the more expansive and inviting on fifth album Texas Rose, The Thaw & The Beasts, an album that turns sharply away from the stripped-down, whisper-quiet softness of his past two albums in favor of bigger arrangements and more direct hooks. This bigger, bolder sound comes in large part from the broad supporting cast that Raposa has invited with him this time around, including Black Heart Procession’s Pall Jenkins, labelmate DM Stith, Rocket From the Crypt’s Jason Crane, longtime collaborator Rafter Roberts and Bauhaus’ David J. Certainly, the added talent helps to flesh out the songs into brighter and more urgent pieces, but it’s the strength of Raposa’s songwriting that shines through on these 11 tracks.
Texas Rose kicks off with subtlety and familiarity, as Raposa softly croons the opening lines to “Rose,” a catchy country ballad that builds into a bigger, more glorious affair with the gentle weep of lap steel and infectious hand claps. As the album progresses, however, Raposa begins to show off a more diverse array of styles and more curiously captivating arrangements. “Worn From the Fight (With Fireworks)” has little in the way of rustic, folky arrangements and instead is built around a skipping drum machine and some gentle, surf guitar licks. “No Trouble,” meanwhile, has a sexier rhythm to it, slithering with a dark and predatory prowess. The reverb-heavy “Down the Line, Love” recalls John Lennon with its big and transcendent piano chords, and “Lucky Old Moon” is synth-gurgling space pop, of all things, but still quite lovely.
Closer “Dance, Dance” is one of the simplest on the album, but one of the best, a heartfelt acoustic ballad that shows off Raposa’s beautiful melodies unfussed, with few bells and whistles to gloss over it. He sings, “So she says `come in from the rain’/ and well, hell, I came in from the rain,” as he invites the listener to do likewise and listen to his beautiful and wonderfully crafted tale, one that’s hopeful, but real. He saves one of the best lines for last, singing “And it’s a long and difficult dance, but I think that maybe it’s still good.” For the first time in quite a while, it’s easy to picture Raposa smiling. And when listening to this album, it’s that much easier to follow his lead.
Video: “My Heart”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.