Castanets - In The Vines
In The Vines is the sound of a man down on his luck. Literally. Nearing the end of the completion of this album, Castanets main man, Ray Raposa, was mugged at gunpoint outside his Brooklyn flat. This was, if you like, the cherry on top of a year of serious depression.
But personal struggles can fuel fine music, and there is some decent gnarly alt-country to be found here. It is very obviously the work of a man who has spent most of his life wandering around the U.S. à la Jack Kerouac, experiencing both city and nature.
The album begins with the ominously titled Rain Will Come. Although morose as it is, halfway through comes a noise like the screeching brakes of a train, bringing the song to a slow, unnerving finish over the next couple of minutes. It's not the only burst of "electronica" on the record. Three Months Paid has a beat that sounds like it was devised by a lo-fi Massive Attack.
However, embellishments above what you'd expect from country are subtle throughout. Simmering drums on Strong Animal, for example, suggest open space (and possibly some Indians). Standout track, the gorgeous This Is The Early Game, adds to its weeping steel guitar a backing chorus that resembles a pack of wolves not quite howling in unison. Pay very close attention and you can make out references to "troubles" and shooting guns.
But that's part of the problem with In The Vines in general. Raposa often overdoes the grizzled vocals, making for an experience as testing as hitching in the rain. When he's not hard to understand, he sometimes sails close to country pastiche (see Westbound, Blue). Still, album closer And The Swimming, in tone and from snatches of caught lyrics, could be a man finding peace in the wilderness. We can only hope.