Castanets - "This Is The Early Game" (In The Vines)
The voice that comes through on Raymond Raposa’s latest LP as Castanets, In The Vines, carries on with an invented tradition. Clearly indebted to predecessors whose names and work the reader is likely thoroughly familiar with, Castanets carves out its place within this tradition not through the isolated, incongruous signifiers that float to the surface on certain tracks (nods to the syrupiest hip hop inform “The Night Is When You Can Not See,” and “And The Swimming”) but through a finely-tuned, deliberate disorientation. The tradition Castanets forms a part of has a dialectical relationship to place. The track listing alone serves as a fragmentary map of this tour-weary album’s arc: “Westbound, Blue,” “Three Months Paid,” “The Night Is When You Can Not See,” and “Sounded Like A Train, Wasn’t A Train.” Nothing here unfolds in “real” time or space, or any approximation thereof. The production, like the songs themselves, has an eerie, metallic clarity that collapses and unfolds historical depth; this fleshed out and spare sound no doubt owes much to the latest studio incarnation of Castanets, here dubbed the Vineland House Band. (Supporting vox also come from the Climbing Choir, which features Sufjan Stevens, tourmate Jana Hunter, and Nathan and Nick Delffs of Portland’s Shaky Hands.) In The Vines opens with “Rain Will Come,” in which Raposa addresses his audience with no pretense of novelty:
“So night will call / another will call/ And I will / Go / So it’s going to be sad and it’s going to be long / And we already know the end of this song / Sing it one more time”
In The Vines is precisely that last effort, endlessly repeated, impossible to overcome or even complete, a feeling cemented as the song’s careful fingerpicking is overtaken by the circuit-bent squalls. Appropriately, In The Vines takes its name and impetus from a Hindu fable of eternal recurrence. Throughout the album, there’s a sense of total, un-natural surveillance and a corresponding (failing) attempt to decipher meaning in the vicissitudes of one’s daily life. Though the two previous Castanets albums, First Light’s Freeze and Cathedral, have dealt with archetypal American rootlessness at length, only In The Vines considers touring specifically. With the advent of gruesomely detailed accounts of post-Black Flag touring, few listeners will lack the imaginative means to relate to the depression and listlessness that wend their way through this album.
“Westbound, Blue” is the most song-like song on the album. While most other tracks don’t so much begin or end as start and stop, letting the listener in on a conversation already in progress and which shows no signs of concluding, “Westbound, Blue” is anomalous because of its comparative extroversion. The song is a kind of love letter; Raposa’s apparent faith that the addressee will receive and understand the message sets its apart even more. We find the singer out of time and out of place (“Annie you have my heart / But the city has my flesh”), and meanings have only started to slip as disabling depression sets in (“And I couldn’t hear what they were sayin’ / In the front seat”).
Among the remaining eight songs is some of Raposa’s strongest songwriting. “Strong Animal” may point to early Palace, but its heavy atmosphere recalls Ry Cooder’s vision of the West as a place without language in his Paris, Texas soundtrack work. Without the illusion of novelty, In The Vines shuffles doggedly forward, an artifact both placeless and too situated, too heavy with history, too fate-bound. It’s at this point that America’s myths begin to haunt themselves. As Raposa sings on “This Is The Early Game,” “Thinkin’ on last year’s ghost / Thinkin’ on yesterday’s ghost / Miss Monterey / It’s been a ghostly day.”