Texas Rose, The Thaw and The Beasts is the perfect follow up to Ray Raposa's previous album, City of Refuge. For that, the man behind Castanets holed himself up in Nevada and recorded a solitary desert soundtrack that felt painfully alone. But here, he surrounds himself with players. Alongside regular Castanets members Suzanne Weiche and Henry Nagle, there are contributors both surprising (like Rocket from the Crypt's Jason Crane) and seemingly inevitable (like Black Heart Procession's Pall Jenkins). The result is the most full-band sound we've gotten from Castanets, but it still keeps up the ghostly isolation that's always been a part of Raposa's sound.
The real success on the album is how all these players accentuate and stretch out all this lonesome space, rather than build the songs up. Even on "No Trouble" and "Down the Line, Love," where guitars deliver towering solos over heavy psych-rock bases, all that big noise still echoes with reverb, reaching out into an expanse too large to overcome. Songs like "My Heart" and "On Beginning" show Raposa almost alone, but the slight contributions from the other players thicken up the fog more than Raposa's creaky bleat ever could alone. And the electro-pop leanings of "Worn from the Fight (With Fireworks)" and "Lucky Old Moon" show the group stepping confidently out of country sawdust and into the digital ash without missing a beat.
But it's the two songs that bookend the record, "Rose" and "Dance, Dance," that showcase both Raposa as a songwriter and how Castanets work best as a band. Both tracks are, at heart, the deathly country dirges we've come to expect from Raposa. But each has subtle layers added to amp up the feeling. A chorus of ghostly voices call out into the darkness on "Rose," making Raposa's high-in-the-mix vocals sound all the more stark. And on "Dance, Dance" guitars twang and snap off notes in thick layers over each other, whipping a quiet ballad up into a beautiful country epic.
Amid all these great songs, there's still grinding noise experiments and dissonance that make for an imperfect whole. But it is that knack for jarring us at the right time, that has always made Castanets records distinct. So yes, Texas Rose, The Thaw and The Beasts is the closest Raposa has come to a straight country record. But he doesn't come that close, as all these players steer him further out on tangents rather than towards the middle. And the record is all the better for it.
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