Castanets - Decimation Blues - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Castanets - Decimation Blues

by Rob Taylor Rating:6.5 Release Date:2014-08-26

The New Weird America movement had its origins in the 00s. Different plays on traditional folk musics really can be traced back to visionaries like Dave Van Ronk and John Fahey, guys who were destined to challenge our perceptions of the blues, and thrived on fractured arrangements, and were, in truth, perceptive outsiders, traversing musical history without diminishing it.

 

The same could be said of that other ‘weird America’, rock bands like Mercury Rev, Neutral Milk Hotel or Granddaddy, bands that introduced us to different way of listening to indie music by adopting, for instance, the musical saw played with a violin bow, broadening our emotional response to the music, or using vocals which extended melodic reach but gained a lot in character.

 

Raymond Raposa, who is the core of Castanets, seeks to challenge our ears with a hybrid folk music comparable to Grizzly Bear or Wooden Wand et al, and his sunburned tempos could be compared with Shuggie Otis. There’s some really cool sounds on Decimation Blues. There’s the Kinderklavier and narco-surf guitar, and piano runs of ‘Be My Eyes’; the muted bar-room/pianola sounds of ‘Cub’; the radio distortion and muted horns providing a broad underlying accompaniment on ‘Thunder Bay’; cheap synths on ‘Out for the West’, which could have been created on a Commodore 64; and my favourite, the appearance of a monkey stick (pole with metal jingles) on ‘Black Bird Tune’, providing some shimmering percussion. ‘Pour It Tall and Pour It True’ plays like an outtake from Paris, Texas, or Lynch’’s Blue Velvet or Wild at Heart, with sustained guitar twang and nightclub sax in the style of Ben Webster.

 

Problem is, as a whole, the instrumentation is more zoological than logical. There’s a lot happening, and pearing in can seem momentarily fascinating but ultimately dissatisfying when there’s no consistent musical thread. The reference to ‘blues’ in the album title is pertinent to mood, not blues music. The reference to 'decimation', I’d imagine, is meant literally although it seems too drastic a term for melancholy.

 

Where’s the fun gone in roots music anyway? Having recently visited Sun Studios in Memphis, it struck me yet again just how uplifting traditional blues/folk really was, often played by black sharefarmers, or slaves or labourers, or similarly dispossessed poor white people, who spent their lives toiling under hardship.

 

They sung about their lives, but did so while taking the piss out of themselves, by finding light in a dark place. It reminded me that I really have a limited tolerance for miserablists that can’t at least be funny, like Lightnin Hopkins, or Townes Van Zandt, or Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), or Vic Chesnutt.  

 

Listen, for instance, to the lament over the commercialisation of the Harvey Milk story on ‘Out for the West’, which according to the cynical narrative, garnered more interest in Sean Penn’s profile on Vanity Fair, than sociological interest in Milk as historical figurehead. That’s how I heard it, but any alternate view of that song would test your brain’s capacity for abstraction.

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