2012, the end of the world or the beginning of new things? Let’s bet on the latter. Going on five full-length records since 2004, Asthmatic Kitty’sCastanets has given us a wide-lens look at deconstructed Americana. Come September 4th, Castanets’ Ray Raposa will debut a new band,Raymond Byron and the White Freighter, and a brand-new full-length, Little Death Shaker.
Where the ‘Nets trafficked in swampy, ambient improv and avant-country gone coal black, Raposa’s new stuff is pure roadhouse blues, buggy neons buzzing and spilled beer, big drums and the type of loud, up-in-the-red guitars that’d make Patrick Swayze bust some dude’s grill.
Stripped of all noise influences and focusing on straight-up songs, Little Death Shakeris a record evocative of late nights and dusty parking lots, long drives and boozy hookups. This is the work of a dude who’s spent his youth and young manhood on tour and it comes through in both the music and the lyrics. Where Castanets’ lyrics gave us Ray Carver-ian fragments and it’s-what-you-leave-out-that-counts minimalism, here we see Raposa back from the battleground with stories to tell. This is the most lyric-heavy Raposa’s been and it’s also the most playful and humorous, and you get the feeling some of these songs would be the ones that would go down best near 2am at some weird sports bar dive in southeast Alabama/Iowa/Mississippi. (We can just see some big biker dude/fallen NASCAR star/Gary Busey lookalike sitting back-to-bar, Bud in hand, having a good-natured laugh over the punchline from “Some of My Friends” or the WTF premise of the Dan Reeder penned “You’ll Never Surf Again.”)
The record begins with fighting spirit. ”Allegiance” comes on with a punch of electric guitar and Raposa singing “I woke up feeling/bold as sh*t.” It’s his rowdiest and most confident song to date, a real knockabout that’ll take you by surprise if you’re used to Castanets. Up next the title track verges on Queen (Flash Gordon soundtrack?) and “Some of My Friends” is a barnburner with the ghosts old Sun Studios players holding court.
Highlights are many. The dark-as-Skoal interstate roller “Whippoorwill,” the slowly ramping ‘Some Kind of Fool’, which rolls easy and pretty with backup vocals from Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent before building to a sh*tkicking rock ‘n’ roll peak where we find Raposa delivering some of his best and most racy lyrics, singing the very un-indie-rock, “I could spend this good money wherever I care to/taste all the honies that I choose /lay myself down beside anyone’s flower/all alive in the morning with the dew.” It’s a song about libertine freedom and heartbreak ignored and taking the bull by the horns and being … well, kind of a bastard.
More highlights: Castanets collaborator Talia Gordon taking main vocals on “You’re Not Standing Like You Used To” (Kate Wolf); the after-afterhours minor chord jam “Stateline,” Little Death Shaker’s most ruckus track of all, a late-night spent trapped in the stripclub/rig cab/country bar/tour van/your own damn head. At 10 minutes it’s a tale of drugs and wayward love, a real red-lit kind of aloneness, backed by a legit live crawl, with high and ghostly organ and distorted vocals crackling like a bad CB connection.
With “Meridian,”Raposa and Houck bring back the vibe of “Some Kind of Fool” and take it on a humid trip through the deepest South, gators in the water, snakes in the sand, a stormhead looming over the sun-dappled river. When Raposa sings “oh honey here comes the storm” you can just FEEL the weather breaking.
One of this record’s real charms is you can close your eyes and see these 13 tracks played live; you can see the drummer leaning over his kit with his brushes (and sunglasses on?), the backup singers standing around the mic, beers in hand, eyes closed, swaying side to side, the lights crisscrossing the stage. “Meridian” is no different. You can see this band. You can see these people playing together, and in a world of records that bands can’t duplicate live, it’s crazy-refreshing.
The album’s closer, “Allegiance 2,” brings back longtime Castanets collaborator Bridgit Jacobsen for a hushed and barely-there apology. “Oh lord be kind to me/after all these devils I have kissed.” As a prayer, a shrug, and an exhausted offering, it’s a fitting way to end an album so concerned with sin and vice. It’s also a fitting end-introduction to this new band. So meet Raymond Byron and the White Freighter and their recordLittle Death Shaker. Here’s to the new.