The world is loud. The wind blows hard. We need songs for shelter, and Raymond Raposa can build a shelter from almost anything: the sun-bleached bones of a drum track and a couple spare organ chords; a carpet of creeping synth arpeggios, a scaffolding of multi-tracked harmonies, a few scraps of alto sax to prop up the whole structure. Decimation Blues, Raposa’s sixth release as Castanets, marks a decade of scavenger architecture.
In 2004, Raposa gave us a Cathedral to live in, a Gothic, cavernous first album echoing with the souls of lost prophets and wayward lovers. The arrival of Castanets was sudden and strange, like finding Notre Dame in the middle of a desert, like walking into a dusty clapboard dive in the steel and glass heart of the city. From the start, the reductive, ready-to-hand terms—“freak folk,” “new Americana”—fit Castanets uncomfortably. Raposa’s sensibilities were not nostalgic or curatorial but private, allusive, and avant-leaning.
First Light’s Freeze (2005) and In the Vines (2007) further developed the fractured approach of Cathedral. Raposa has known his share of rootlessness. His songs continuously evoke travel, but long for a still center. That duality is also in Raposa’s voice—think of the deadpan baritone of Leonard Cohen shot through with the high yawp of Buck Owens.
City of Refuge (2008) found Raposa recording alone for three weeks in a motel in a desert town in Nevada, crafting Fahey-like guitar miniatures and stripping his songwriting down to struts and beams. “I’m going to run,” Raposa sings again and again, “I’m going to run to the city of refuge,” but sees the shimmering mirage ever receding into the distance. Texas Rose, the Thaw, and the Beasts (2009) opened things back up, returning to the larger confines of Cathedral. With 2012 came an intriguing excursion: Raymond Byron and the White Freighter’s Little Death Shaker, a collaborative, full-band album that saw Raposa unfurling some loose, late-night energy, covering a surf number, and expanding his aesthetic in every direction.
Which brings us to the new Castanets record, Decimation Blues, the music of a man who’s learned to live and build among the wreckage—twelve seemingly offhand, secretly meticulous tracks that we can hunker down in. “Still always good to be alone in someone else’s home,” Raposa sings. He’ll lend us his place, or teach us how to fix up our own. Come in out of the rain, put your shoes by the fire. The walls might shake, the wind might howl, but you’ll be safe here a while.
— Will Boast
A dozen years and a half dozen retirements into the game there’s little left for the boys to prove but proof itself. Better grab a notary.
1: It’s Good To Touch You In The Sunlight: As fine a treatise on housesitting as you’re like to seek. Slack saddled on a Mid-Dakota lope our man here examines some small, good moments both inside and out. “O the currents, rip tides and the flow.” Distance feeling pretty near already.
2. Be My Eyes: Theological concerns and creature comforts. Ghost waters. Chris Cory’s saxophone spins micro flurries in and around the Saharan-surf coda in near mania with nary an Endless Summer in sight. “There is a fire in the East now.”
3. Thunder Bay: Now, if you’ve ever managed that good crossing of the great Canadian nation (Missisauga, Ajax, Pickering) you may know this standard and it’s namesake well. As told, there truly is “only the one way” from where you came and where you go and tomorrow’s lookin’ no easier. Nets fixture and fixer Rafter Roberts takes the lead and runs on this one. Dulcet.
4. Out For The West: A selectively abridged and largely fictitious Ascent of the Western Civilization. Parallel histories writ micro and macro. Frontiersmen abound in this Rhodes-laden lullaby tailored high specific for their descendents. The days are short and the night ain’t so bad if we’re lucky.
5. To Look Over The Grounds: No easy task that of the Horsemen, bearers of the terrible news. A sympathetic moment singled out in this one for the crew and the pit boss. Baritone’ll baritone, but when the drum comes it’s time to run.
6. Blackbird Tune: Put dog down. Air the place out. Turn phone back on. A sort of spring cleaning theme going with some big strums for the summer. Loose, live and late the order of the day with Nathan Hubbard’s kit gamely weathering the bluster of choir, keys, warp and drift. “There is a sweet little visage been in all of my dreams.”
7. Cub: Long time ‘Nets treasure Bridgit Jacobsen shows for this duet in D minor. Farmland, fields and apprehensions at large. “O mouse, O critter ain’t the hawks just getting bigger?” Banjo out in the husk and the reed with the girls. Piano back home getting supper up. Got a good coda from town set aside for dessert later.
8. Pour It Tall and Pour It True: Which might line us up nicely for this here tear-in-yr-tequila crooner, a decidedly after midnight kind of spin in C. Lots of play for this lately in low haunts from Salem to Scappoose. Roberts guitar spins a few loose spins and Jacobsen sticks the high harmony. “Turn them neon reds to blues, I got a load of worry to do.” Me too kid, time to head out for one.
9. There Is A Place Up The Road There: Blackbird Tune’s tune shows up again portending Lord knows.
10. My Girl Comes To The City: Thanks to Stephen Elliott and his work. A heavy and staggered hitter this, with nary a quantizing device in sight. Tape delays, half-tack pianos, cuts, patches. “Strangers in the frame, stars round my eyes.” Roll them snakes all night, kids gonna be down the road two shakes before the first throw leaves your hand..
11. Tell Them Memphis: Which, I suppose… tell ’em wherever. Some longitude that don’t exist. Some semi-tropic where the bugs carry yr bread and yr bed off. Dyersburg maybe, gotta see about some family. Denver could be, might nestle in them hills. Imperial Beach, good to chop down some of that fence. Hamburg, Houston, Hillsboro. Tell them Memphis. If not, those guys’ll know what’s what anyway.
12. Somewhere In The Blue: A possible love letter to pre-adolesence, The Adolescents, punk rock and the places where things grow. MRR begets HeartattaCk gives way to Harper’s or nothin’ or XXL or what have yr inclination. Filth/Blatz split stays a sight in the racks, Van Pelt gifted world with them tracks. “Held hands with each other on the bus when the city was ours.” Walkman on the 34 line. Show starts at seven. Cue up the A-side.