In The Vines

(Asthmatic Kitty; 2007)

By Peter Hepburn | 14 November 2007

Sometime in the last couple of years Ray Raposa got quiet. I mean, sure: he was never all that loud to begin with, so here's a change that seems even more unlikely, right? But look back: on the first two Castanets records quiet Raposa came through strong; he was a clear force, a concise songwriter, and had something of a jones for sonic experimentation. But here, on In the Vines, that jones has become fuzzy and inconsistent; he's still at the fore, but where previous records hit you with their emotional immediacy and occasional instrumental greatness, In the Vines presents his compositions like a slideshow: pretty, but where's the emotional grit?

In the Vines isn't an entirely unsatisfying record, though, even if it won't grab your attention the way the first two did. Raposa's still a hell of a songwriter; he's got a knack for the emotional sucker-punch. "Westbound, Blue," for instance, has Raposa delivering the sweet "Oh Annie you have my heart / but the city has my flesh / holds my weakest will / but Annie you hold the rest." But the song gets by entirely on the strength of its composition, and slower, less focused songs like "Sway" and "Three Months Paid" and, well, the rest of the tracks on the album don't come replete with the kinds of flourishes that made the Castanets' first two albums so wonderful to experience.

Raposa is letting his music slide into a sort of hazy, countrified folk rock, and even the electronic/production accents he employs seem to be lazy this time around. It's all so.predictable, and while it's a style that I'm sure could work for him, it feels dashed off here. Some of his best moments have been over really innovative, attention-grabbing instrumental work, like the squalling build-up on First Light's Freeze's "No Voice Was Raised" or the unexpected final half of Cathedral's "Cathedral 4." In the Vines is the first record he's made where the music feels secondary.

I've no doubt that Raposa's got a lot of great music ahead of him. The guy is extremely talented, and has a great bunch of musicians who want to work with him (the back-up singers for this record include Jana Hunter, Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck, Asthmatic Kitty mainstay Rafter Roberts, and Sufjan Stevens). This record, though, feels complacent, like he's a bit stuck and is trying to find a way forward. Here's to hoping he figures that out soon.