Castanets

Over the years Ray Raposa has trodden much ground with his Castanets. With Cathedral, their 2004 debut for Asthmatic Kitty, Raposa's country roots were laced with noise and free-jazz haze-outs, while 2007's In The Vines welcomed in the warmth with its glistening lap-steel moments. 2008 saw the release of City Of Refuge which increased this warmth to sweltering levels, not stopping until every composition was reduced to dry desert. It was a minimalist opera of stillness and endless bleakness. I don't know how long this approach could have lasted as the listener was starved of any morsel of habitation within these arrangements. Thankfully, Texas Rose, The Thaw & The Beasts arrives like a long overdue rain storm.

The opening track plays out like the entire album. It continues the bleak landscape that ended City Of Refuge. Raposa's frail vocals shivering in this barren world, as dry as tinder and equally as delicate. With only a faint acoustic guitar as company he nudges this album into view. Gradually he is joined by ever-increasing bass drums, lap-steel, mariachi trumpets and stirring back-up soul singers. From here on in, the beauty resides. It gets lonely in parts, as you'd expect from this writer, but it's the beauty that carries it along.

With his trademark instruments, Raposa crafts lush soundscapes from delicate guitar, steel drums, oceans of synths and some expertly chosen touches of crackling electronica that, once introduced to the mix, transform this from your average country record into something achingly linked to the past but fiercely contemporary. Worn From The Fight (With Fireworks) comes off the back of some truly traditional sounds and simply glistens and dances with modern day frivolity. Its frail structure hangs on the deepest boom of electronic bass with glitchy rhythms dancing around it like static from a TV. In this landscape Raposa's vocals assume an intimate tenderness rarely seen.

Ray Raposa comes from the same bleak school as artists like Jason Molina or The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle - and just as the sun has crept into their work of late, the same has happened here. That's not to say he's dropped all the experimentation that made his work so challenging in the first place. Far from it - he's just managed it better here and integrated it with such depth of beauty. Like the previous artists, this record is at first arresting in its simplicity but hides much within. Take your time with Texas Rose and it will unleash endless pay offs.