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Castanets - Cathedral

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Artist: Castanets

Album: Cathedral

Label: Asthmatic Kitty

Review date: Oct. 15, 2004

Centered around singer/songwriter Raymond Raposa, Castanets create downbeat folk music that manages rich texture despite its simple and sparse instrumentation, much like Asthmatic Kitty's flagship Sufjan Stevens. While not as overtly Christian as Stevens, Raposa is interested in matters of faith. He works in a poetic, almost folkloric manner that only touches on the stories behind the texts (he reportedly has plans to flesh out the ideas some day in book format).

Castanets wisely avoid the morose, gloomy quality that has come to be associated with much of the San Diego indie rock scene, opting instead for a pysch-folk overtone, with Elephant 6-style noise-college flourishes - Raposa calls it "derailed pysch-country." He does enlist members of many of San Diego's trademark bands - Pinback, Black Heart Procession, Rocket from the Crypt – so it’s apparent Raposa is well thought of in his hometown. The droning organ that rings throughout opener "Cathedral 2 (Your Feet on the Floor Sounding like Rain)" immediately calls to mind the dirge-heavy Black Heart Procession, but Raposa filters it through reverb, recontextualizing it with a sacred, pristine quality (no doubt aided by the album's title and lyrical imagery). Label mate Liz Janes and Bridgit Decook provide haunting background vocals to Raposa's sometimes lackluster delivery. At his best, Raposa manages an early Leonard Cohen-style vocal timidity, effective on the album's quieter songs, such as the stark "No Light to be Found."

The cohesive mood of Cathedral is surprising considering the fluctuating instrumentation. There is an “everything-but-kitchen-sink” aesthetic at work: horns, bells, a saw, unidentifiable bits feedback, etc. “Industry and Snow” moves from an acoustic lull into an all-out rock-and-roll tantrum, the album’s fastest and loudest moment. The quick shifting tempos, and the diverse instrumentation in general, sound surprisingly at peace with each other, perhaps because Raposa keeps everything bathed in an earthy, organic light. This is why the drum machine on finale "Cathedral 4 (The Unbreaking Branch and Song)" seems out of place at first. It stops as quickly as it started, though, making for a surprising exclamation mark on Raposa's final words of wisdom, There is no path in our flight.

That he is able to mediate a wide range of collaborators each playing a wide range of instruments speaks to the depth of Raposa’s vision. His development is definitely something to watch. For now, Cathedral is another welcome installment in the folk renaissance.

By Jon Pitt

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