Castanets were formed in California, moved to New York, and are currently signed to singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens Wyoming-based Asthmatic Kitty label. The influence of those migrations were evident when the group’s widely traveled leader, Raymond Raposa, brought his ever-shifting band to Ottawa’s Zaphod Beeblebrox for a geographically expansive evening of free-wheeling folk-noise rock.

The opening act was local band Books on Books. They played a brief set of their noisy art rock and swiftly decamped for the main act.

Shapes and Sizes, an Asthmatic Kitty signee was to have appeared on the bill, but a medical emergency forced half the band to decamp to their Montreal homebase, leaving the remainder to be absorbed into Castanets.

Castanets took their sudden increase in size in stride – they have a reputation for changing their lineup even while on tour; the credits on their latest album list 15 members, most of whom are given equal weight.
Raposa’s wanderings, and that credit list, give an excellent idea of what the Castanets' collective sound like. Some of those members are linked with Wooden Wand, a New York out-folk band which has worked with James Toth’s Vanishing Voice. Raposa himself has worked with Devendra Banhart associate Jana Hunter (with who he recently toured the East Coast by sailboat) – and of course Sufjan Stevens is on there too.

For the Zaphod’s show, five people were on stage beside Raposa. A female keyboardist sat on the stage, serving as a duet partner or providing backing vocals. A willowy man kneels before a mixing board and looping station at centre stage, snatching brightly painted cassettes from a box by his side to manipulate into squeals and drones. Occasionally he picks up a trumpet. The group’s regular guitarist periodically leans over to whisper directions in the ear of a bassist adopted from Shapes and Sizes, while a similarly adopted rummer kept the beat from within the depths of his hoodie.

The group’s occasionally shambolic performance brought to mind such artists as Sunburned Hand of the Man, No Neck Blues Band and Cerberus Shoal. At other times the well-bearded Raposa seemed to be channeling the doleful spirit of Smog’s Bill Callahan or Will Oldham, and one could understand how they landed on Asthmatic Kitty.

The fragile performance wasn’t the kind that would attract a large crowd (it didn’t), but it had a compelling beauty.

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