Saying that it is possible to leave a Castanets show in bewilderment is something of an understatement. In fact, this review is likely to exude the same because the band’s performance was so indescribable as to yield no clear feeling. But let’s try anyway.
Castanets + I Heart Lung
9 Jul 2005: The Iron Post Urbana, IL
Castanets bandleader Raymond Raposa cherishes freedom in every way, both of performance and predictability (or lack thereof). This night, Raposa kneels as he plays, balancing his Strat-style guitar over one haunch. His hair is short, now, and his beard is long, almost reaching the guitar strings as he adopts his fetal crouch. In this obtuse and distant position and in Raposa’s occasional wails I’m finally able to fight the urge to compare Castanets to Will Oldham. Oldham has never claimed to be much of an improviser whereas Raposa’s song structures are far from straightforward. Lyrically, the comparison may be valid and when it comes to creating an awkward aura the two essentially hold hands. This night, asked about the stage presence, Raposa simply says, “It’s just where I feel the most comfortable right now.”
It’s difficult, though, to know what sort of expectations to hold. As soon as Raposa told me, nearly two weeks before the show in an interview for The Hub Weekly, that he couldn’t remember touring with the same band twice, it became clear that what was seen last year was a different story altogether: different songs played by a different band, for an altogether different mood.
The sounds of this night embrace a chaos of sorts. Raposa, with easy access to an oft-pounded tambourine and an array of effects pedals, would remain the ringleader. The accompanying two musicians blend into the swirling sounds—it is difficult to hear the autoharp for what it is, and though the drums are there (we see them being played, after all!), it is Raposa who provides the droning, the rhythm.
Perhaps most hilarious is the often-made conclusion after listening to Castanets’ 2004 record Cathedral that Raposa, and whatever company he might be toting, rides a line connecting country with jazz. Perhaps this is true in the way that, like jazz, Raposa’s compositions become free in form, a slave to the musicians who are performing them, becoming anything or everything. Like the baggage that comes with the descriptor of country, there is desolation and, technically, Castanets arrange with fairly standard American folk instruments.
But this country talk, this jazz and folk talk—it’s all for laughs, really. Listening to Castanets—watching them perform and thinking about all these descriptors—these words that supposedly mean something show how flailing we writers have been in attempting to contextualize Raposa.
Castanets only play for 35 minutes or so. Raposa thanks everyone. Somewhere along the line—it’s difficult to say when or where, for we’ve all been mesmerized by now—a member of the audience shouts out, “Where are you from?” and Raposa replies, simply, “We’re from America. But not in any patriotic sort of way.”
Later, I would overhear Raposa saying he doesn’t know where he’s from anymore, an answer given with a simple shrug. Perhaps that exaggerated clip from the band bio about Raposa ditching school and traveling the country by Greyhound begins to reflect in the songs after all.
In retrospect, many in attendance seemed off-put. Here comes Castanets, this band receiving praise from all over, from people—myself included—who generally find it a daunting task to add this band to any sort of musical context. But the experience of seeing this show was a nearly religious one. It’s just not your normal, Saturday night, drinking music, which is what many, unfortunately, seemed to expect.
It’s difficult to weave I Heart Lung into this write-up at all but again, here’s to trying: There are two people on stage, one playing drums and one playing spaced-out electric guitar. The person beside me says, “It sounds like they’re playing in different rooms”, which isn’t so far from the truth, although that statement has more of a negative connotation than is deserved. The two play a sort of erratic free jazz that runs head-on with the droning of rock ‘n’ roll’s more stoned side. Up-and-comers in the new music world herald I Heart Lung, and they are certainly unique. I Heart Lung, though a force to be reckoned with, is unfortunately not at all appreciated tonight.
For better or worse, there probably would have been half the attendance if they had known what was coming. True appreciation takes a two-sided effort so perhaps it would have been better if this had happened. Then those of us truly engaged could have pulled our collective confusion together and figured out once and for all where the hell Raposa and company are actually coming from.