Castanets, Decimation Blues

Jonathan Frochtzwajg

By Jonathan Frochtzwajg

on 08.19.14 in Reviews

Raymond Raposa has a magnum opus in him. As a matter of fact, he’s probably got a few. But the Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter, who performs under the name Castanets, is going to have to focus on one of his many talents to get his masterpiece.

These are strong songs, all, but the transitions between straightforward Americana and avant-garde are too rough

Over his six-album discography — not counting a one-album, full-band detour as Raymond Byron and the White Freighter — Raposa has shown himself to be a gifted writer of gothic folk and lachrymose country, as well as a restless experimentalist in the mode of his label mate and sometimes-collaborator Sufjan Stevens. He’s best known for his fusions of Americana and elements from electronic music, jazz and rock — combinations that indeed frequently yield interesting, invigorating results. Yet Raposa has never quite achieved a successful synthesis of Castanets, the folk act, and Castanets, the sonic sojourn. Instead, he vacillates between the two, remaining elusive.

On Castanets’ new album, Decimation Blues, that vacillation is downright whiplash-inducing. There are very good country and folk songs, from “Black Bird Tune,” a rip-roaring waltz, to “Cub,” a gorgeous, piano-driven number so sparse and slow it almost doesn’t make it from line to line. There are also delightfully weird tracks: “Be My Eyes” and “My Girl Comes to the City,” for example, are potent brews of musical ideas, roiling with skittering percussion, snaking Middle Eastern guitar lines, and psychedelic vocal effects.

These are strong songs, all, but the transitions between Raposa’s straightforward Americana and his avant-garde outings are too rough, and ultimately Decimation Blues doesn’t give a clear picture of this intriguing yet frustrating artist. I’m still waiting for the record where Raposa hoists his freak flag and lets it fly.