Release Date: Aug 19, 2014
Record label: Asthmatic Kitty
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
Cinematic, bold, varied, personal, eccentric, rootsy, compelling, lovely, authentic and a short thirty five minute run all define Castanets’ new album Decimation Blues. Part Leonard Cohen, part old Bob Dylan, part Tom Waits, part lo-fi chillwave, part tumbleweed drawl, and all original, one-man band Ray Raposa is a man of many talents. His voice is a crackly, tex-mex inflected, smoke-worn instrument that takes a few seconds for the brain to accommodate before welcoming it completely.
Like many of his peers in the New Weird America of the early aughts, Raymond Raposa has made a career out of exploring what “folk music” means in the 21st century. His albums are characterized by somber medleys of country, gospel, and Americana shot through with space-aged synth and the kind of sax solos you’d expect to hear in the score of a Lethal Weapon movie. But if his previous albums have tested the elastic boundaries of folk, Decimation Blues, his sixth full-length record as Castanets, snaps them outright.
Over a lengthy run with the Castanets, songwriter/bandleader/sole constant member Raymond Raposa has always tucked his traditional folk dirges and country-tinged indie rock songs into the outer fringes of experimental sound. Harsh noise, obtuse recording techniques, and unlikely excursions into feelings of dread and menace have rendered Raposa's otherwise fairly normal song skeletons truly strange affairs. While largely absent of the overtly freaked-out elements that have transformed unassuming folk songs into avant-garde attacks on the senses in past Castanets albums, Decimation Blues may still be the strangest chapter in the project's long history of strangeness.
“It’s always good to be alone/ In someone else’s home,” purrs, coos, and growls Raymond Raposa on “It’s Good to Touch You in the Sunlight”, the opening track from Decimation Blues, his latest effort under the Castanets banner. This line — intoned in a variety of intensities in his smooth yet gravel-flecked delivery — serves a dual purpose. It’s both a fair representation of Raposa’s lyrical prowess, beautiful and oftentimes startlingly evocative, and an apt metaphor for the act of listening to Castanets.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. When Raymond Raposa retired his Castanets project in 2009 in favour of a new full band called Raymond Byron and the White Freighter, it seemed like a step away from the lo-fi freak-folk which he had been performing for nearly a decade. However, five years later Raposa is back as Castanets but it is not quite business as usual.
If you remember Castanets from the freak-folk apogee nearly a decade removed, you might wonder whatever happened to Raymond Raposa, the collective’s wonderfully reedy and observational anchor. From 2004 until 2009, Raposa seemed to be one of that loose scene’s most avid explorers. He worked through busted-up cowboy songs and musique concrète hums to create a patchwork empire from blues, folk and country, sewn together with thread drawn of gentle psychedelia.
For a minute there, it seemed like Castanets was done. Ray Raposa had formed a new band, Raymond Byron and the White Freighter, an act that left behind much of the electronic darkness that could tilt a Castanets song on its axis in favor of playing with more straightforward Americana sound. But, as with many of his songs, Raposa takes an unpredictable path, and this time it has brought him back around to Castanets in the form of a new record called Decimation Blues.
Since the release of 2004’s Cathedral, San Diego’s Castanets have often been included in discussions of the mid-aughts “freak folk” movement that birthed artists such as Animal Collective, Wooden Wand and Phosphorescent. Early albums by Castanets (primarily singer-songwriter Raymond Raposa) were hushed and creepy, “freaky” in their rural boniness. Though Raposa has certainly kept busy with other projects, Decimation Blues (out today on Asthmatic Kitty) is the first proper Castanets album since 2009.With Decimation Blues, Raposa seems to be working on a similar trajectory to some of his contemporaries.