First Light's Freeze

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As intense and searching as their first album and even more ambitious, Castanets' First Light's Freeze moves beyond the spiritual crises of Cathedral to work through the difficulties of war and friendship. Even as the group uses some of the same structural techniques from Cathedral, such as the interludes that introduced and punctuated sets of songs, Castanets explore and experiment with their sound in ways that couldn't have been conceived of based on their debut. Though both albums share a similarly charged but quiet, late-night intensity, with different themes come a different sonic palette. Keyboards, saxophones, and tick-tocking drum machines join the subversive country and folk influences of Cathedral for an even more dramatic meeting (and sometimes, collision) of old and new sounds. The terse warning of "Good Friend, Yr Hunger" could easily be older than dirt, but the way "No Voice Was Raised" builds into a frenzy of anguished electronic noise is utterly contemporary. As on Cathedral, Castanets' examination of their given themes isn't especially literal; even when they declare that "the war is on" on "Into the Night," their true feelings come out more through the sound of the music than the words that accompany it. And, despite a few noisy outbursts -- and the wry commentary of "A Song Is Not the Song of the World" -- First Light's Freeze is more sad than angry, particularly on the title track and "Bells Aloud." Indeed, it's the farthest thing from strident and confrontational: sparkling nighttime laments like "All That I Know to Have Changed You" and "Reflecting in the Angles" are purely lovely. However, these songs, and the rest of First Light's Freeze, serve as a reminder that beauty can be a bold form of protest in ugly times.

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