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In the Vines

(Asthmatic Kitty; US: 23 Oct 2007; UK: Available as import)

Ray Raposa, front man and essentially the only constant member of Castanets, has always been a wanderer. He’s spent much of his life on buses, in rest stops, and crossing interstates in the backseats of strangers’ cars. And when, in 2004, he finally stopped somewhere long enough to record his first record, Cathedral, his wanderlust and isolation made for an album as intricate as it was stark, full of ghostly echo and bone-deep emotion. In the follow-up though, 2005’s First Light’s Freeze, you could still hear Raposa’s heart beating, but the blood had thinned out a little. Where Cathedral echoed with meaning, First Light’s Freeze often sounded more hollow than haunted.

It’s been two years and number of setbacks since then, but Raposa and Castanets are back with In the Vines. And by taking more time on this record, Raposa has delivered with not only a return to form, but perhaps his best offering yet.

Opener “Rain Will Come” is a steady solo acoustic number for the first few minutes. Raposa’s old-house-creak of a voice settles over the hushed guitar and he lets us get closer to him than on any track from First Light’s Freeze, so much so that he tries to play with us a little. “We already know the end of this song / sing it one more time,” he sings, seemingly inviting us into the track. But not a minute later, squalls of transistor noise come in and overwhelm the tune, and for nearly three minutes Raposa picks up his strum, trying to play through the deadening noise until he concedes. It’s as close to a joke as you’re likely to hear from Raposa, as that is surely not how we knew a Castanets song would end. But it is also fitting, not only to a song in which the world is threatening to close in on him at any moment, but on an album where screeching noise meshes and tangles with beautiful guitar throughout.

“Three Months Paid”, the album’s longest track, is a slow burn, full of synth loops and stuttering blips, making holes in their sound big enough to fit Raposa’s warbled whisper through, sometimes allowing for a quick flourish of horns to crest above the swell. On “This is the Early Game”, Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck supplies backing vocals as otherworldly as any machine to be found on In the Vines; this makes the song, rising in the aftermath of the chaotic “Rain Will Come”, sound almost unbearably pleading.

For much of the album, Raposa speaks of settling down. “Sway” finds him pining for a body to lay on his own. “Three Months Paid” provides a list of places he nearly stopped and stayed in. But with each noise piled onto his threadbare songs, you can feel the elements conspiring, pressing on Raposa, putting a twitch in his leg and pushing him toward the road out of town. The great tension on In the Vines is the feeling that Raposa wants to stay in one place, with one person, but he knows he never will. He knows he’s fighting against something embedded deep in him, a way of seeing the world that he can’t change, no matter how he tries.

He’s got friends with him in places here. A number of people, St. Vincent’s Annie Clark and Sufjan Stevens among them, come in to help him sing one of the fuller, better tracks on the album, “The Night is When You Can Not See”.  But even here, in a crowded room, Raposa still feels alone, the same way he does on the rest of the record. The production makes each song shine by creating rifts in the tracks, pitting Raposa and his guitar against any other instrument on the album. The holes left in the songs cause them to sound expansive and melancholy, making for a devastating combination.

The album seems to take a few tracks to settle into its groove, as the sudden stop and start between tracks early on can seem jarring. The train-chug guitar of “Westbound, Blue”, for example, could have been faded out to segue into the stalking brush of “Strong Animal”, rather than sticking an awkward gap in between the two. But In the Vines settles into itself so well that the staggering early on almost feels intentional, like the album is trying to force itself to slow down, to stop, in the way Raposa is. But, like him, In the Vines can’t stop itself, and it eventually gives way to its own lonesome inertia. Raposa’s aching and honest songs will force their wanderlust on you, and you may decide to pack up and drive out of town.  But, rest assured, you won’t be able to leave In the Vines behind when you do.


Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.

Tagged as: castanets
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