Further blurring the lines between the eclectic and the esoteric is Castanets, a delightfully strange mixture of country folk and noisy electronic beats. This one man band, otherwise known as Raymond Raposa, rotates lineups and sounds like a fervent baseball manager changes players during the post-season. In one moment, his songs could make the ghost of Townes Van Zandt shed a sentimental tear; and in the next, summon the mighty Dosh to jump in, plug in his laptop and exchange muddied commotion tracks. To sum it all up, this is two halves of different fruits in a weird salad; both delicious, extremely dissimilar yet working together (somehow) harmoniously. It’s all well worth breaking down this unique brand of freak folk to help appreciate it:
Listen to how the album begins, and tell me you’re not hearing a new Bobby Dylan song. For a moment it’s Robert Zimmerman in the flesh, all right, until you realize this is much more standard country-music fare: The faintest hint of a down-home drawl, the acoustic guitar and eventual slide guitars, conventional rhymes. Heck, even the title sounds country, “Rose”. Raposa’s plain vocals and “aw, shucks” lyrics contribute to this facade as well, “Oh Rose, when I think of you/wherever you’re blooming/alone or with someone that I know/it shakes and it splits me/to think that you could forget me/and I won’t lie and say otherwise.” In fact, this is probably just as good of a traditional country song as the original country songs themselves. But as soon as the second cut on the record begins, we forgo the classical for the cutting edge.
“On Beginning” starts with organ and guitar, but soon is swirling with minimal echoed vocals and outer space sound effects. Like watching shooting stars out on the prairie next to a campfire on Mars. There’s a shift here, but it’s not daunting or unusual, it actually feels like a natural progression in the album. In fact, without such close examination, you might miss it. By the start of the third track, it almost comes to a stop. But boredom is replaced by a sense of anticipation; it’s not the kind of lull you feel when an artist is out of ideas, but when an artist is preparing to lower the boom on you. Enter the furious crescendo near the end of “My Heart”, and we’re back into the electronic fire by the beginning of track four.
Such is the zig and zag throughout. Rarely does another song begin that wasn’t assisted by the one before it, an album cohesive enough to have qualified as a rough concept record by music alone.
And really, the only thing that should keep listeners from fully enjoying the album is not the genre-hopping, but the sense that Raposa is holding back. The afore mentioned “Rose” is about as good as it gets, songwriting-wise. And “Lucky Old Moon” features soundscapes bright and beautiful enough to fit in as an untitled Flaming Lips bonus track. But the waiting in between can become tiresome, waiting with the knowledge of how good Castanets can be while the artist teases the listener along. We know Raposa can do better, and we’ll be here, waiting for it, when it happens.