Decimation Blues

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Over a lengthy run with the Castanets, songwriter/bandleader/sole constant member Raymond Raposa has always tucked his traditional folk dirges and country-tinged indie rock songs into the outer fringes of experimental sound. Harsh noise, obtuse recording techniques, and unlikely excursions into feelings of dread and menace have rendered Raposa's otherwise fairly normal song skeletons truly strange affairs. While largely absent of the overtly freaked-out elements that have transformed unassuming folk songs into avant-garde attacks on the senses in past Castanets albums, Decimation Blues may still be the strangest chapter in the project's long history of strangeness. This is perhaps due to how well-suited for each other the foils of folk and experimentalism grew to be in the freak folk era. Campfire songs laced with acid-damaged electronics or wild processing went from being shocking to being a genre of its own somewhere around Animal Collective's 2004 breakthrough album, Sung Tongs, and a whole slew of artists such as the Castanets fit perfectly under this newly accepted banner. Raposa undoes all the once-weird trappings of his past albums with Decimation Blues. Instead of jarring feedback or circuit-bent noise, the folk songs here are augmented by cold electronics and preset synth sounds, as with the drum machine pop of "Out for the West" or the call-and-response folklore tale of "To Look Over the Grounds," where Raposa and a gothic chorus tell a tale of the Four Horsemen over a grid of twinkling, interlocking synths. Elsewhere on the album, the instrumentation is uncharacteristically rich, with woozy horn sections and backing vocals making "Thunder Bay" a swaying, Springsteen-esque affair and laid-back organs giving a cool bounce to album opener "It's Good to Touch You in the Sunlight." This is no lo-fi affair. Decimation Blues sounds well-produced even in its most confusing moments. Forays into complete noise sit nestled in among the more traditional, haunted folk tunes that are more in line with what's come before from the Castanets. "My Girl Comes to the City" is a disorienting barrage of blown-out drum sounds and cut-up vocals, where "Be My Eyes" coats Raposa's vocals in a swoon of backwards delay and rides the beat of a nervous drum machine spiraling out of control. It's only ever a track or two before these remarkably weird tunes are tempered with a softer, spare acoustic composition. Perhaps the complete lack of self-consciousness is at once the most impressive and strangest thing about the album. This is the sound of an artist open to a range of possibilities so vast they can't help but contradict each other, and he just can't be bothered by the confusion or annoyance those contradictions may cause his listenership. In the end it doesn't matter anyway, as Raposa is already on to one of the album's many moments of brilliance by the time our heads have stopped spinning from one of its moments of unfettered oddness.

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