First Light’s Freeze
athedral, the debut album from Raymond Raposa’s Castanets, was Americana in the most literal sense. Though certainly not without precedent, Cathedral owed no major debt to Americana’s touchstones: blues, country, and folk. While Raposa’s vaguely irritating back story—passing out of high school at age 15 and traveling America by bus—may have seemed horribly cliché, Cathedralwas surprisingly not—a finding-America story that shedded wide-eyed mythology in favor of swampy hymns and boisterous noise workouts.
Cathedral had all of the dressings of a straight-from-the-womb, fully formed indie rock classic—shrugging off considerable baggage, sidestepping genre pigeonholes—but the album’s relentless heavy heart was a downer, and it didn’t help that Raposa’s scratchy folk whisper had trouble teasing the melody out of his compositions.
Not even a year removed from Cathedral’s release date, Raposa’s second album, First Light’s Freeze, is a showcase of how little he’s learned since Cathedral. This isn’t a bad thing: Cathedral was packed so full of potent ideas, it could easily take several full-lengths to weed out a cohesive style. Indeed, the best moments from First Light’s Freeze feel like further-distilled thoughts from Raposa’s over-anxious artistic psyche.
In its moments of clarity, then, First Light’s Freeze is a world-beater. Raposa searches for “echoes of the world” on “A Song is not a Song of the World,” a comparatively up-tempo pop song that saunters into poetic declarations that move from ponderous to familiar and back: “I am not this full moon / And I am not this fall / I am not walking with a wife / She won’t be running with the dogs / She is not the world.” “No Voice Was Raised” features a tidy boy-girl harmony, tempting the oncoming psychedelic freak-out with a bright melody, even as the lyrics describe helplessness (“No voice was raised / No song was sung”).
Disappointingly, Raposa tempers these breakthroughs (“All that I Know to have Changed in You”’s digital rain is a breakbeat away from electro-folk.) with space junk interludes and meandering, tuneless compositions. “Into the Night” opens the album with a whimper, mistaking ethereal creaks and aimless acoustic strumming for songwriting substance. The Devendra-lite of “Good Friend, Yr Hunger” segues meekly into the unremarkable sound collage of “(We Drew Uncertain Breath).” When the unadorned “Bells Aloud” and the forgettable title track fail to pick up the pace, the pussyfooting becomes almost unbearable. Beginning with “No Voice,” however, the arrangements get meatier, and Raposa rides a winning streak through “Dancing with Someone (Privilege of Everything),” the final song containing the album’s most refreshing lyrics: “I do not want to explain / And I’m not going to / I want to get high on something / Go dancing with someone / Turn our backs to the battle.” A disarmingly simple sentiment from a too serious artistic soul, it’s the whimsical humanity that too much of Raposa’s work lacks.
There’s nothing wrong with extrapolating an interesting idea, and First Light’s Freeze, is at worst, an extension of Cathedral’s worthiest moments. Fans should be forgiven, then, for adopting a wait-and-see attitude, hoping for more of Raposa’s transient melodic nuggets and less snoozer album-caulk.