Monday, 10 November 2008

Album Review: Castanets 'City Of Refuge' released 10/11/08

City Of Refuge is by turns twitching and soothing, awash with experimentalism and the upturned familiarity of American alt-folk. It was recorded in three weeks in a motel in the Nevada desert by one Ray Raposta, in a burst of creative solitude that resounds within the confines of the fifteen tracks.

Most of the themes within City Of Refuge are fleeting, ephemeral glimpses into the mind of a man alone in the vastness of the dustbowl landscape and the hollowed plains of his own consciousness. ‘Celestial Shore’ introduces the City with a guitar fanfare that resounds with sun-bright reverb and a melodic warmth. From thereon in, however, there is probing sparseness about the soundscape that Raposta has created in the City Of Refuge, which manifests itself as a mind creeping into forgotten corners of memory and undiscovered rifts of thought. Some of the time, Rasposta’s compositions are completely abstract. The ‘High Plain’ trio are pointillist experiments in the echo of crystal drops of synthesised sound, left to reverb as though in a goldfish bowl, or the outer layers of the earth’s atmosphere.

Where the city becomes more lucid, however, Raposta shows a clarity of concept that vindicates his exploration of abstraction. ‘Refuge 1’ revolves with dark intentions to ‘run to the city of refuge’, which by the time of penultimate sister track, ‘Refuge 2’ seem to have been fulfilled, as the thickly accented vocal drowns in the watery reverb of production. The momentary gospel of ‘Fly Away’ and the dry, spaghetti western guitar riffs of ‘Prettiest Chain’ place this largely experimental album within a musical context. But it is in the lapsarian tribute of final track ‘After The Fall’ that City Of Refuge is most melodic, and that lyrically and musically the finished album is best explained. Raposta writes ‘if I’d known where we were going, I would not have gone at all,’ but this album reverberates with the sense that it is only through journeying to the vast solitude of the Nevada desert that he could properly reflect on the valleys, plains and shores of his inner landscape.

The minimalist musicality and commercially uninterested abstraction of City Of Refuge is unlikely to win Raposta many record sales or a place in the mainstream music industry any time soon. Yet City Of Refuge resounds with musicality and clarity of expression of thought that makes it undeniably a critical success – that rare wonder of an album that manages to convincingly experiment with accepted forms.

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