Castanets’ Freeze is a winning addition to increasingly popular indie soundtrack

Raymond Raposa’s music belongs in a driving scene of a low-budget documentary or Wes Anderson indie film. It should overlay a montage of late afternoon cloud-watching, soul-searching walks on the beach and gas station purchases of Tic-Tacs and Marlboros. The moody tunes are reminiscent of shifting eyes and greasy hair, a mix of mutated folk and toned-down free jazz. This is Raposa’s Castanets.

First Light’s Freeze (11 Oct 2005), the follow-up to Cathedral, picks up where the 2004 debut album left off. It successfully stands within its architecture of eeriness. This album does not stray from the hallmark sound that worked so well in Cathedral, but it does continue to evolve in its creativity and seems to move on its own. Better-produced than Castenets’ debut, Freeze has been called a mix of “destination-unknown travelogue” and “subversive anti-war boogie.”

Castanets is an experiment in musical potential (with Raposa collaborating with some of his labelmates), and it evades a clear-cut genre definition. It floats along, drifting through different scenes of temperament, with no definite resolution at the album’s close. Interspersed among the tracks are musical vignettes of 28 seconds to just under two minutes long, which serve as a blurring of the album, smudging the songs together as though Freeze were one long piece of music exhibiting a pocketful of moods. The eclectic songs toy with chanting vocals and instrumental possibilities, both painful and pleasurable.

The sound is likened to Merle Haggard and the “southern gothic shenanigans” of Pink Floyd. It is also evocative of labelmate Sufjan Stevens of Asthmatic Kitty Records. The music review Web site Pitchfork (www.pitchforkmedia.com) says of the Castanets creation: “If the torpid, disarticulated songs often threaten to fall apart completely, the presence of Raposa’s quietly commanding voice provides a center, shining through the murk like a strong flashlight submerged in a swamp.” The flirting of Raposa’s unassuming voice and haunting melodies creates a winning juxtaposition of unlikely musical strengths.

Castinets’ lyrics are cynically romantic and preoccupied with the futility of life, specifically in war. In fact, the album opens with the words, “Let’s go outside, dear/In the murderous night/Let’s go out walking/The war is on/All our friends are dying.” Freeze tours through a lyrical and musical torment of acceptance versus denial, ending with, “I want to get high on something/Go dancing with someone/Turn our backs to the battle/I didn’t see anything/Nothing worth remembering.”

If Freeze itself was a movie, it would feature flawed characters, awkward camera angles and strategically placed shadows. Though it has its messy moments of questionable chords, the album is quite lovely as a whole. It is held together by its dubiousness and leaves the listener with unanswered queries when the credits start rolling. The fruitful fusion of a subdued late-seventies Nashville twang and unraveling of the current emo trend makes the ride through the Castanets conundrum well-worth the $8.50-plus-popcorn.