Texas Rose, The Thaw, and The Beasts
I have watched the changing entity of “Castanets music” happen for a while now. There were the noise-scorchin’ feedback sessions and there was corpse-y folk and sweaty blues rock. There were big bands and smaller bands and no band, but throughout it was always Castanets music, always ol’ Ray Raposa and the various tricks in his magic bag. So when I tell you Texas Rose, The Thaw, and The Beasts is the most important thing the dude’s recorded I want you to take that as a sworn affidavit from someone who’s done a lot of watching and a lot of listening and a lot of thinking about what makes this music tick. I also want to say that this is the most accessible Castanets has gone – but also the most “out.” In my fantasy mind’s eye inner-brain-sitcom-thing I see people discovering Texas Rose for the first time and saying, like, “Yeah, totally. This.” with a happy nod of their head and possibly a triumphant much-love double-fist thump to the chest. I say that as a proud cousin or a friendly, stoked neighbor and I say that with the utmost respect and assuredness. Yeah, totally. This.
Recorded in April of this year at Singing Serpent Studios in San Diego, Texas Rose, Castanets’ fifth for Asthmatic Kitty, clocks in just under 39 minutes. It neither drags nor flies by. It is, in essence, a substantial, unpretentious, bullshit-free listening experience. Apparitional noise gives way to AM country hits. Glitch-click pop songs flower up for a minute or three then duck back under the water. Wizardy synthesizer straight outta the IMAX theater surrounds you with sound as a throb of bass grabs your hand and drags you shuffling out onto the dancefloor. The small touches are great too: a brassy sigh of Memphis sax drifts and sways for a second or two after a quick little scorch of righteous Silver Bullet Band guitar. Tiny wisps of oscillating noise dissolves then mushrooms up over half-slivers of irradiated guitar licks.It’s a dream sequence the whole way through but here comes the accessibility vis-a-vis “out” part. No matter how trippy this gets – and it gets – Texas Rose is Raposa’s clearest set of actualized songs to date. Songs, well-structured, defined, catchy songs. They may lead in with lightshow electronics or drop into skeletal clatters, but once they’re there in the guts of the chorus, they show their face and they show it proud. And then it’s back to the out and you’re drawn in by gorgeous pieces of music that sound like the insides of roadhouses and ocean grottoes and locked apartments. This is always done naturally and with a thoughtful, well-recorded classiness.
Last year’s Castanets release, City of Refuge, was dry as Death Valley. Overheated amps buzzing, desert rat life, hot air crackles. Texas Rose, then, comes six minutes before the flood. It’s antediluvian, pregnant with impending new-life change and wet with the first sprinkles from that scary mofo of a black cloud in the distance. Refuge was a mean coyote. It was wary, tense, and made out of rattlesnake hide and flattened Budweiser cans. This one’s a sweet, little, lusty, sly-eyed lady filling up the skyline with arms outstretched, promising some good ol’ fashion dew-wet sensuality.
If Refuge was an “alone record,” as one critic put it, Texas Rose sounds like Castanets the band. Produced by Asthmatic Kitty artist and longtime Castanets bro/collaborator Rafter Roberts, the record features heads like Rocket from the Crypt trumpet-player Jason Crane, Bauhaus’ David J, Black Heart Procession leader Pall Jenkins, Gogogo Airheart’s Andy Robillard, Asthmatic Kitty label-mate DM Stith, Gabriel Sundy, Chris Cory, and previous Castanets collaborators Henry Nagle and Suzanna Waiche. The record is big because it was made big. It’s a collaborative, hearty, hardy animal that sounds like a movie score on headphones.
A good friend of mine heard Texas Rose and immediately beamed and blurted out, “Dude! Pink Floyd gone epic country!” but I think that’s only half right. The epicness of Floyd is there, sure, the majestic production, the walls of mood dripping Tangerine Dream synths, the big prismatic flourishes, but as trippy as the record is, this is not a hippy record. It’s not flaky-druggy or consciously “weird” and it’s not a ’60s throwback. You get the feeling that some of the sweetest moments came from in-studio improvs, but there’s nothing arbitrarily placed or jammy for jamming’s sake. Instead we’ve got smart, no-filler country, electronic, and folk songs taken further, expanded with noise and expansive with space flowers of newness.
It’s a sound earned. Raposa has spent the five years since the release of his 2004 debut,Cathedral, touring the world alongside the likes of Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, Phosphorescent, Michael Gira, Jana Hunter, Black Heart Procession, Scout Niblett, Dirty Projectors and Deer Tick, hard-charging the small club circuit and endlessly reworking what we now know as Castanets music. Put that in the studio with the always apt Rafter and the culmination is Texas Rose, a thing born of dues paid, friendships, and chances taken.
The record’s opening track, “Rose,” is an alternate universe Nashville gold nugget that turns into a beat-heavy barrelhouse stomper with back-up soul singers and sky-high pedal steel. “No Trouble” hits you with a heavy, cinematic bump ‘n’ grind. “Thaw And The Beasts” is anchored by reverb guitar and simmers along before being dropping down a mine track and standing there in the creaking pitch dark of inner-earth.
By album’s end you have the six-minute “Dance, Dance” with Raposa speaking as directly as he has to us, starting off a legit country music story-song with, “So she says ‘come in from the rain’ and well, hell, I came in from the rain.” And then he and his girl, as he sings, “stayed in, dodged our friends, did some drugs and our best to disappear” ending with a grab at – and an acceptance of – “a hard but good kinda knock-around life, “no more a mole in the ground or a bear in the winter/let it be broken glass and bones/let it be scratches and stitches and splinters.” But it’s the end line that gives the goods, “And it’s a long and difficult dance but I think that maybe it’s still good/Even though we all dance sometimes to a song that we don’t love like we should/Yeah, even though we all have to dance sometimes to a song that we don’t love like we should.”
I feel very good about this record and I hope you will too.
Adam Gnade is the author of the novel Hymn California.