Last year, I wrote a lengthy essay on Castanets' unique method of mixing genres: the way they create music that spans subcultures, continents, and decades, but adopt neither a modernist nor postmodernist approach, don't search for transcendent unity, or project irreconcilable, madcap fragmentation. Ostensibly a folk-rock act, Castanets become more difficult to peg when you give them a close listen. Looks like Ray Raposa and his constantly changing band haven't changed their tack for their third album.
If you've never noticed in the past how often Castanets monkey with the traditional singer-songwriter formula, In the Vines will throw you. You'll wonder where the hell the charcoal feedback at the end of "Rain Will Come" came from, then ask yourself how the same band could load "Strong Animal" with primitivist hand percussion, snippets of psychedelic guitar, and clarion horns. And I sympathize with your confusion, because in Castanets' other albums, they tucked their weirdness away in bridges, outros, and interludes. Here, their dissonance, eclecticism, and ambience are more pronounced. We're dealing not with a Nick Drake, but a John Martyn, a restless experimenter.
While we're talking dudes-with-guitars: Raposa emerges on this album as a band leader. Never again will rock crit hacks call him a troubadour. Even his lyrics, a mix of front-porch reflections ("It's trouble like this made me think of you/ And all the trouble we got into") and impressionistic images ("I close my eyes/ And I see mountains with the longest roads/ Threading through their toes"), are more sound than sense, the stuff of ambitious art-rock, not folk. And when Castanets play in an acoustic, stripped-down mode, they still court strangeness, guitar chords melting into cirrus-like masses. I wish Neil Halstead's folksy post-Slowdive output was as supple and imaginative as Castanets' rustic bliss-outs.
Martyn, Slowdive -- when I listen to In the Vines, I'm reminded constantly of indeterminate, dream-state guitar music, the sound of the in-between, the almost-but-not-quite. Which is exactly where these songs reside: in the places where genre boundaries are pliable, neither rigid nor nonexistent; where collaborators alter a songwriter's style without erasing it; where a man imagines himself as he wants to be, sees himself as he actually is, and embarks on a journey that leaves him somewhere between the two.
If, as I believe, all great rock ‘n’ roll, from The Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to Can's "Chain Reaction," is an encounter with and longing for Otherness, then Castanets make great rock 'n' roll. But they also realize that full connection with the Other is impossible. They see another person's, another sound's Otherness as its best quality, our reason for caring about it in the first place. So instead of a lack, an abyss of yearning and pent-up emotions, we get suspended animation, a space of endless sound and perpetual blessing. We get post-rock.