Castanets’ only constant, Ray Raposa, regularly enlists a rotating cast of members — represented here by labelmates Rafter Roberts and Sufjan Stevens, among others — and it’s this ever-evolving assembly that makes the band a truly creative force. Yet In the Vines is a cautious, subdued effort, retaining all the melancholy of 2004’s Cathedral but lacking some spark, including the experimental craziness featured on the band’s sophomore album, 2005’s First Light’s Freeze.
Opener “Rain Will Come,” a penetrating acoustic/noise mélange, fades out with an aimless electronic sequence that delivers only screeching, harsh noise. More drifting follows with “Three Months Paid,” the longest track here at more than six minutes; it meanders its way through fields of ambient, distorted fuzz and spacey blips. “This Is the Early Game,” with Roberts’s yodeling wail, Raposa’s relaxed croon, and a reverb-soaked pedal steel is a soothing interval spaced between them, as is the mellow and brief “The Fields Crack.”
It’s a delicate arrangement: modifying elements of the synthetic with the organic into some kind of working relationship, and Castanets’ progressive folk continues to study the walls between them, scattering guitar noise and electronica throughout an otherwise sparse and understated acoustic score. In the Vines is distinguishing in this way, but the musicians have not really explored any new territory here. Though by what Raposa utters in the bluesy “The Night Is When You Can Not See,” it seems he may prefer it this way: “I don’t want to be/ One of those kinds/ Doesn’t know what kind they are.”
It’s actually a bit of a miracle that In the Vines came to fruition as soon as it did. Raposa completed the album shortly after being mugged at gunpoint and battling a crippling depression. In a sense, In the Vines — like Raposa and his self-proclaimed “bad year” — is something rare and curious only if you’re willing to wander through the rough patches here and there and accept a subtle discord along with the harmony.