Cinematic, bold, varied, personal, eccentric, rootsy, compelling, lovely, authentic and a short thirty five minute run all define Castanets’ new album Decimation Blues. Part Leonard Cohen, part old Bob Dylan, part Tom Waits, part lo-fi chillwave, part tumbleweed drawl, and all original, one-man band Ray Raposa is a man of many talents.
His voice is a crackly, tex-mex inflected, smoke-worn instrument that takes a few seconds for the brain to accommodate before welcoming it completely. It helps that Decimation Blues’ has some of Raposa’s strongest songwriting yet.
It’s Good To Touch You In The Sunlight brings around the Cohen comparisons, primarily with the backing female vocals. Thunder Bay is soft and sweet, with Raposa’s voice suddenly a beautiful and clean tenor, like a backing member of Fleet Foxes instead of gnarled wire. It’s one the album’s most approachable songs, featuring high octave honky tonk piano echoing faintly in the background while sounds of thunder and water slur at the beginning and end of the track effecting a bookend. Out For The West has a great early nineties highly compressed saxophone bit, and a chiptune influence swirling around in the melody line. You can hear the remix crowd salivating at the possibilities.
Raposa is an American poet, where nothing separates the sacred and profane, the high and low culture. A sample from the aforementioned Out For The West:
“Bought a Vanity Fair at the Value Village Green tags, half off, bought some old Nike shoes And Sean Penn, he was smiling from the cover The kind of smile that says, ‘there’s nothin’ to lose.'”
Raposa writes lines that’d cause lesser poets to either find inspiration or get discouraged fairly quickly. In My Girl Come Comes to the City has this knockout:
“There was stars ‘round the sides of my eyes flashing whiter than bones
You get what you came for and I came here for her alone.”
To Look Over the Ground has a John Carpenter-esque, Escape From New York bassline and Spaghetti Western guitars. Apocalyptic Biblical imagery from the Book of Revelation about the Four Horsemen are mingled with a cowboy story of the most classic sort. If this sounds like a recipe for disaster, you’re wrong. And what a joyous song Black Bird Tune is to feel! Its only fault is not being long enough, which in an era where every pop song is over five minutes, this is a minor complaint. The sad ballad Cub’s stilted, sparse sound is pure folk troubadour, while the self-aware country moan Pour it Tall and Pour it True is right out of Hank Williams songbook and should be mandatory listening at some honkytonk saloon in the Southwest, where broken hearts gather and lost flames rekindle the magic with a slow dance on a poorly lit stage as bourbon drains steady from the bar. The foot pedals are so far down you can wade in the guitar lines. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous song.
This is followed by There’s a Place Up the Road There, more a break than song, less than a minute long and a nice transition piece from the sleepiness from before to the bruiser My Girl Comes to the City, which is best described as drill hip-hop taking an acid bath in that talking bluesy/folk combo Woody Guthrie. The staccato rhythm of his poetry clashes and rides the distorted synths and beats with a finesse unexpected. Then, Tell Them Memphis arrives. What phrase would you like for this song’s description? Hauntingly beautiful? Ethereal? Heavenly? All of them can apply. When autotune is used correctly it can makes a song shine, as heard here. The chord progression is the definition of a sad goodbye. The banjo at the end reminds you of Texas’s simple past. Somewhere In The Blue, the ending track, is bold and brash, a goodbye/break up song of sorts, but what kind of break up is not really defined, just the way should be.
Taking a collagist approach in the 21st century indie soundscape isn’t groundbreaking, but what’s so admirable about Decimation Blues is how Raposa merges all these strange, disparate elements in a way that rarely, if ever, seems forced. That is where talent and experience lift a musician’s work to the realm of art. Listening to Decimation Blues is to be confronted with recognising such a force. Respectful of the past while embracing the new, Castanets deserves both admiration and acclaim for its accomplishment. This is emotional, mature art you listen to on some lonesome night – or with a loved one – intently, focused, and open. You will not be disappointed.