Castanets - Biography
Castanets are a modern indie rock band from San Diego, California, and mainly the creative output of Ray Raposa, who has become a force in the San Diego music scene. The Castanets have created a name for themselves in the burgeoning freak folk —and sometimes called new weird America— scene and have shared many touring bills with Jana Hunter and Wooden Wand.
Raposa began his musical career playing with various groups in San Diego, including members of Tristeza, Pinback, Rocket From the Crypt, Skaters and many more. This loose knit base of musicians may have attributed to Raposa's constant use of different musicians, usually in improvisational manners. Soon, Castanets were making a name for themselves in the growing freak folk scene, and were soon signed to Asthmatic Kitty, a San Diego indie label that was also home to Sufjan Stevens. Castanets became closely associated with indie singer Jana Hunter, and would subsequently commence on several worldwide tours with her.
Castanets released their first record, Cathedral (2004 Asthmatic Kitty), to critical acclaim. This record helped to solidify their place in the pantheon of freak folk bands that were quickly emerging in the US. Castanets established their own brand of music, with Raposa drawing on the southern traditions for inspiration and he developed his own twang to his voice, and affect that suited the music well, which often strayed into pastoral southwestern landscapes. Raposa himself labels his music as "derailed psychedelic country," and he is not far off mark. As is often the case with groups of the freak folk scene, Raposa incorporates the use of several unconventional instruments, including toy pianos, out of tune dulcimers, various small percussion and other non traditional sound makers. Cathedral often touches of themes of religion and faith, and its mood is intense, hazy, introspective and brooding. Raposa also enlisted many musical luminaries from the San Diego indie rock music scene, including Pall Jenkins of Three Mile Pilot and Black Heart Procession, Connor Kirkwood of Silver Sunshine and Josh Quon of Upsilon Acrux and Children of Gauhd.
The second record for the Castanets was First Light's Freeze (2005 Asthmatic Kitty), which found the group reaching deeper into the freak folk genre. For this album, Raposa was joined by Sufjan Stevens, as well as members of Wooden Wand. Raposa does not follow so many of the religious and faith-based themes of his debut effort, but rather veers into topics more personal in nature, such as on song like "A Song is not the Song of the World," and "Good Friend, Yr Hunger," both of which have confessional elements to them. The overall tone of the album is more subdued and even solemn at times, and established Raposa's style as a sparse and open one, which lends itself well to the improvisational and ever changing elements and instrumentation of his live concerts.
For the third Castanets release, In the Vines (2007 Asthmatic Kitty), one can hear Raposa working through his fits of depression. Raposa has garnered a reputation as being moody and sullen at times, often not isolating himself while on tour, as much as is possible. Raposa reportedly spent the majority of 2006 in a cloud of depression. One can also hear the increasing presence of electronic in the music of Castanets, which fill in the some the space left open from the sparse arrangements. This record has much darker tone than its predecessors. Jana Hunter makes an appearance on the recording, as do members of Wooden Wand once again.
The newest album by Castanets is City of Refuge (2008 Asthmatic Kitty). This may be the most stark of all Castanets recordings, done mainly by Raposa alone, in a motel room in Nevada, and later overdubbed by musicians like Sufjan Stevens and Jana Hunter. Its geographical location may have been inspiration for the album's sound, which is not unlike other southwest themed bands like Calexico.
Raposa is known for his rigorous tour schedule and one of his most notable was a boat tour he did with Jana Hunter and Peter & The Wolf, which gained publicity as a gimmick, even on MTV. Castanets continue to be one of the more popular groups to emerge from the freak folk music scene.