Castanets: Cathedral (Asthmatic Kitty, 2004)
Step into the Cathedral of the Castanets and you will be ushered into an album that is coherent, beautiful, and well-crafted. Within the context of this album, one enters into the grand cathedrals of Raymond Raposa. Those cathedrals, if I am correct, are four in number. The first houses the entire album in all its complexity and simplicity (yes, contradiction in terms, but it seems to work here). The other three “cathedrals” ear-mark the disc at it’s beginning, ending and after its mid-point. Housed at the center of the disc is the track, which clocks in as the longest on the disc: “No Light to be Found (Fare Thee Faith, The Path is Yours).” This brings weight to the center of the disc since it is a pivotal track, as I will mention below. Although boiling down an artist’s work into comparisons never really gives one a true feel for what the artist is doing, I feel the need to give some indication of the sound to my readers. Castanets remind me of a hybrid of a few great artists: Sufjan Stevens (A Sun Came era), Deerhoof, mixed with alt-country and the stylings of Frank Lenz (Last Temptation style). Enough of the broader sense of the disc, lets get down to particular songs.
Cathedral opens with “Cathedral 2.” It’s a slow-tempo song with droning sax, sparse drums and sprinkles of acoustic guitar. There are female and male vocals and various sounds mixed in for good measure. Raposa is a master of imagery and that is apparent from the very first track. Water runs throughout “Cathedral 2” and gives the listener a sense, not only of it’s ability to envelope us, but also its depth, movement and sound. The picture painted is puddles growing to lakes and rivers building at the bottom of the steps. The last line of the song leads into what follows on the album: “It’s all right to want something more than this.” “Industry and Snow” starts out with acoustic guitar and what sounds like a child’s xylophone. It has a subtle alt-country feel and eventually becomes louder with looped feedback with odd guitar sounds and a mixture of other noise.
“You Are the Blood” is an upbeat song in its message. This has imagery in it that is possibly of a redemptive nature. The song itself begins with distorted horn and fades into simple drums and dreamy guitar. Vocally, the song reminds me of Frank Lenz‘ work on The Last Temptation…. “No Light Be Found (Fare Thee Faith, The Path is Yours),” is the longest track on the disc and occurs centrally, changing a bit of the tone of the disc until the end. Reminding me of Gary Murray‘s work on LN, the vocals are quiet with a very light acoustic accompaniment. This is a very honest song about faith, love and friendship that is melancholy in tone and looks forward to later songs that speak toward redemption. Because the lyrics of this song seem so pivotal to the album, I find they are worth quoting.
I got something that my baby wants
She’s got something that I want too
Baby and I are through
I’ve been down to the bottom with a bad, bad man
Down to the bottom baby with a bad, bad man
Lay me down with her gentle hand
He said this darkness, it was untrue
That there was no light to be found in you
But I know Darl’n that’s not true
I had a dream so dark that I could not tell
But that’s just as well
But I don’t know babe just where you’ve been
But I’ve hung myself heavy here
Babe, I don’t know where the hell I am
I thought that man, babe, he might have something that I need
But he had no anger for you or for me
Babe, I swear that man didn’t even know the sea
And some of these friends of mine, I miss them so
Good Lord, these sweat friends of mine, how I miss them so
But some of these others are driving me around on some cold, dark, and strange and deathly road
Bring me down to your river, I want to see how it runs
Down to your river darl’n, I wanna know just how it runs
That man waits on the path, but I know for good I’m done
I’ve got a feeling that that man, he’s just begun
This song is followed by “As You Do,” which seems to reference the relationship mentioned in “No Light” by proclaiming “I wish you loved me as you did.” “No Light” feels so connected with this song that the album seems to flow right together at this point. Although “No Light” is a bit depressing, “As You Do” seems to end on a lighter note with the line “the closer we get, the lighter it sense/the louder it gets.” Why this feels upbeat to me, I’m not quite sure, but the music seems to contribute to some of that. Following “As You Do” is the track entitled “Cathedral 3.” This ushers the listener into another section of the disc that centers both on redemption and the relationship that seems to be involved with the woman mentioned in prior sections of the cd.
“The Smallest Bones” paint great imagery about our limited existence and our waiting for our meeting with the Eternal One. Raposa croons, “My God / it’s an eternity waiting for thee / there’s a cancer / in the smallest bones / in the smallest breeze / and our houses have not grown their wings.” I find that Raposa paints great, simple imagery that is subtle and beautiful in his lyrical content. He ends the song with “And my Lord / It’s an eternity / waiting for thee.” “We Are the Wreckage” is the second to the last song that really ties up many of the themes on the disc. Female vocals make another appearance on this track and the relationship between Raposa and his ladylove makes another appearance. It seems that the relationship has never been made perfect, yet there are bright signs at the end of the song with organ and perhaps xylophone accompanying the singers. Hope is communicated at the end of this song, which leads the listener to the last of the cathedrals: “Cathedral 4”. It seems that, as the new Cathedral is entered, the singer has resolved much of what he has encountered with the “bad man” and has come to terms with his relationships both with his lady friend and God. This song starts out simple and moves into a more poppy style song. It certainly shows that the melancholiness of “No Light” has been left behind and hope is now on the horizon.
On first listen, I didn’t expect much from Castanets. Once I truly listened though, I was drawn into the story it tells and was taken to all the Cathedrals Raposa wished to usher me through. This disc is a true journey through hope, despair, and renewed vigor in life. I say “yay” for the Castanets and encourage all to listen for themselves.