“City of Refuge” is a name claimed by plenty of charismatic churches who want to market themselves as oases of comfort. That clearly wasn’t what Castanets brainchild Raymond Raposa had in mind when he selected the title for his fourth album.
Som critics have likened the album to an arthouse film soundtrack. And there’s a reason for that: It’s not easy to enjoy as a standalone pop music artifact. Still, there’s something evocative about it. Throughout fifteen fragmented tracks, Raposa who holed up in a motel in a nowhere Nevada town to record on his own, and later enlisted friends including Sufjan Stevens for subtle supporting roles rubs nerves raw, but stops short of any truly cathartic moments. The playing is as sparse as his desert surroundings, and it takes him five minutes of noodling with guitars and effects processors to get to the first proper song, the hypnotic chant “Prettiest Chain”.
In the midst of it all, Raposa sings about running “to the city of refuge” (“Refuge 1” and “Refuge 2”) and offers an abbreviated take on the oft-recorded hymn about escape from suffering, “I’ll Fly Away”. But even then, his parched, bristly voice betrays nothing but isolation. It only multiplies during “Savage” a song he hacks at with dissonant guitar chords and “Shadow Valley”, which confesses a strong draw toward death.
City Of Refuge is the work of someone who can’t begin to imagine what peace of mind might be like. Raposa is to be commended for diving so deep into the dark. But if he wants others to accompany him on the journey, he’d best do more than go with the first ideas that come to mind.
Video for Castanets’ “Refuge 1”