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In the Vines
Artist: Castanets
Label: Asthmatic Kitty
Length: 10 tracks

Castanets' previous two albums were deeply abstract, challenging works of art.  They mixed avant-garde freak-folk with just a hint of humanity beneath, introducing electronic elements and somewhat clearer spiritual and war themed lyrics into the frozen tundra that was First Light's Freeze, an album that shifted a short distance away from the almost complete indecipherability of the amazing debut album, Cathedral.  In The Vines is another move toward a more definable human existence behind the music, featuring their barest arrangements yet, placing Raymond Raposa, the heart of Castanets, in the center stage like he never has been before.

In the Vines is still all about atmosphere and mood, but now such qualities draw more on Raposa's person himself and somewhat less on the production qualities that abounded in the previous two albums. His voice is both comforting and chilling, occasionally backed by several other singers early on but most of the time drifting on its own.  For possibly the first time in a Castanets album, the music is pleasurable to hear - the smoothly rippling female vocals in the stand out single "Strong Animal", and the general peaceful flow in the rest of the album, carried by Raposa's voice and his lonesome acoustic melodies, makes this his most accessible collection of songs.

The opener "Rain Will Come" has its own rite of passage, however - ending in a screech of noise and static, it's the lone minute of the album that shows that Castanets still retains the freak-folk of their debut, but it's also the expected end of the frustration Raposa sings of in the first half of the song - "So rain will come, so rain will come, and wind will blow/ so night will call, another will call, and I will go..."  The yearning for a place of repose, the heartbreak associated with departure, and the tangle of loves worn and lost, both friend and lover, weighs down on the heart, but Raposa's response to these hardships is excellence - he keeps going because "there's work to do," and ultimately, In the Vines is about the rescue offered by humility and hope when idleness and depression threaten to take over.

It's a spiritual theme that was present in past albums - "Good Friend Yr Hunger" from First Light's Freeze, where Raposa refutes his "idle hands" and denies the host of Satan in his life, a rare case of a Christian artist asserting the existence of the enemy.  In the Vines carries this on in a broader, more encompassing way.  As an album, it is Castanets' least immediately gripping work, but it is more uniformly steady than First Light's Freeze and far more approachable and human than Cathedral.  And it deserves just as much commendation. This is Raposa's finest album to date.

Jonathan Avants 11/30/07

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