Reviewing Castanets’ Cathedral has been an odd experience for me. It seems that with each listen I find something that increases my appreciation for it, but at the same time, I find a new grating aspect that kills my burgeoning enthusiasm. As with so many auteur balladeers these days, Castanets is centered around one core member who writes the songs, sings the songs and plays nearly every instrument. For Castanets this figure is Raymond Reposa, and, unfortunately, he’s also where the majority of my problems with this album reside.
Reposa’s voice is detached and unengaging throughout the album, and his incessant retread of clichéd blues/folk lyricism (“I’ve got something that my baby wants”) doesn’t help the situation. Whereas labelmate Sufjan Stevens’s songs achieve levels of universality through very specific lyrics, Reposa throws around unfinished metaphorical imagery, like “buried under industry and snow,” to little or no effect.
Where Castanets excel, is in their instrumentation. The hammer fisted toy piano on “Industry and Snow,” the rattling sewerpipe percussion breakdown on “You Are the Blood” and the weeping scrape of cricket legs of “Three Days, Four Nights” are all truly amazing. To tell truth, the album’s middle third consolidates all of the band’s strength. If Reposa tightens the screws on his creaky songbook, he might have a stunning follow-up album on his hands, one that, hopefully, will be less of an aesthetic rollercoaster for me.
Asthmatic Kitty: www.asthmatickitty.com