Friday, 18 April 2014

Castanets – City of Refuge (Asthmatic Kitty)

Castanets Recorded in a motel room in the Nevada desert (and how many albums can you say that about?), Ray Raposa’s new forty-minute opus is the latest in an ever-lengthening line of 'freak-folk' Americana releases to warrant the attention of the madding crowd from whom it clearly wishes to distance itself.

A sense of isolation is distinguishable from the off, with the first half-minute of 'Celestial Shore' played out by a solitary, aching guitar lick, sounding like a slowed-down nursery rhyme melody with a feeling of overwhelming tragedy at its core.

As with previous Castanets albums, Raposa has a fair few instrumental tracks in the set (it’s not until track 4, the wonderful ‘Prettiest Chain’, that he makes his voice heard), and while some of them stick out for their macabre eeriness, others grab the attention on account of the sheer experimentation at play.

With its delicate electric twangs and growling, intermittent bassline, ‘The Destroyer’ seems primed for use in a Western soundtrack; it's definitely an apt product of the geographical emptiness surrounding the album’s conception. ‘The Hum’ has similar qualities, but its dark acoustica has an added requiem feel alongside the impression of desert and dust.

‘High Plain 1’ and ‘High Plain 2’ won’t appeal to all, dealing, as they do, in unadulterated multi-instrumental reverb which throws the flow of the record off-course somewhat. But then again, the Castanets' approach has never been totally straightforward.

Of the vocal-led numbers, ‘I’ll Fly Away’ and ‘After The Fall’ are probably the most traditionally folky in terms of their arrangement, with Raposa’s voice considerably less detached than has been the norm in the past.

For all its subtle touches and praiseworthy stand-alone tracks, this fourth album from Castanets still requires a fairly substantial effort on the part of the listener, not only to try and decipher some rather cryptic lyrics, but also to avoid getting lost or distracted by its uneven course.

Having said that, fans of the previous three albums shouldn’t necessarily be put off by Raposa’s approach this time around. And for anyone unfamiliar with the back catalogue but still willing to give Castanets a try, ‘City of Refuge’ can still act as an effective gateway to the constantly-evolving work of an artist of great intrigue from the alternative side of America.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Published: 12/10/2008 at 21:54
Author: Charlie Ashcroft
Links: Permanent Link Articles Author Blog
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