Tier 3

music / / poetry / / philosophy / / -ology by Nick Courtright

Album Review: Castanets’ In the Vines

But really, The Castanets can’t be a country band, can they? What with the quirky little indie and freak folk tendencies creeping up from the edges, those occasional dashes of electronics, and all that distortion squall they toss at their listeners…that can’t really be considered country, right? Well, I hate to break it to you, but The Castanets’ waterlogged new album, In the Vines, has just a hint too much pedal steel to get away with a less-polarizing genre classification.But take heart, as Ray Raposa–the fur-faced force behind the band’s ever-shifting lineup–knows well the trappings of the genre, and has crafted a haunting album that often sounds like a radio transmission lost in their nether regions of the crab nebula. An old-timey feel befits the record’s often-somber lyricism, and its sonic spareness is ably supported by Raposa’s world-weary and thoughtful vocals, as well as a gifted touring crew featuring Banhart-disciple Jana Hunter, Texas sweetheart Annie Clark of St. Vincent, and everyone’s favorite state-naming angel-boy, Sufjan Stevens.

In opposition to The Castanets’ sometimes-frenetic previous LPs–2004’s endearing Cathedral and 2005’s intimate First Light’s FreezeIn the Vines is the work of a man calmly constructing a soulful and heart-rending sense of absence. Using subtlety to accentuate the album’s themes of displacement and loss, when Raposa sings “leave this town or leave this party, let’s head out front, get the car started,” the incredibly slight accompaniment adds to the feeling of leaving the land you call home, even though it was never truly home in the first place.

Despite all this apparent dreariness, the sleepy atmospherics of In the Vines arrive with a premonition of future promise, that one day your missing home will be found, and that life will sometime soon be just fine. Songs such as “Strong Animal” and “Three Months Paid” offer a glimmer of optimism beyond their dusty exterior, and closer “And the Swimming” rides disarmingly upbeat (but not too upbeat!) percussion to a there-may-be-hope-after-all conclusion.

Ultimately, In the Vines is not an album that will grab you by the throat and hold on, nor is it an album you’ll dangerously dance to as you drive down the highway, but it is an album ambient enough not to distract, and compelling enough to soak straight through the skin and into the bones with enough listens. Its country leanings, though unmistakable, aren’t so overbearing to turn off the country-phobic–we know you’re out there–but are forefronted just enough to offer a respite from the usual artsy clatter of the indie scene. And that makes In the Vines well worth the time.

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