“Bring the frat to the show,” said Raymond Raposa, mastermind of Castanets. “It’s loud and we are all very attractive – half of us are very attractive.”

Sarah Royce
Sarah Royce
Facial hair rocks! (Courtesy of Asthmatic Kitty)
Sarah Royce

Need more incentive?

Castanets is an amalgam of the darker side of folk, indie and bluegrass. Raposa began his music career playing in punk bands in San Diego, where his debut album Cathedral was recorded and released in 2004.

“I was just making tapes for my girlfriend and a friend wanted to produce a record,” Raposa said. “Singing songs was sort of accidental.”

“I grew up listening to hardcore stuff, so it’s always important to me,” Raposa said, citing his darker musical roots.

This eclecticism no doubt accounts for the shadowy tones of his music, but mix that with hip-hop infected R&B like R. Kelly, and you might begin to get a feeling of where Raposa’s music comes from – musically and demographically. The band moves around a lot, though they’re currently based in New York.

Cynical and mournful lyrics characterize songs like “Dancing With Someone”: “In between me and any / any true rejoicing / I wanna forget this reckoning / proud and disbelieving / get the hell out of Denton / with the privilege of everything / alive truly in everyone.”

At times, Castanets’s sound is woeful – think Okkervil River – but with an additional element that sets it apart. The band’s style varies, as the number of members changes from solo tours to an eight-piece project, wielding diverse instruments, from the staple guitar and drums to indistinguishable and distorted sources.

Despite the overall musical theme of life’s downward spiral, it’s unlikely this sentiment will weigh heavy on the hearts of University students during the show.

“A guy in Florida was shaking his dick at us the whole time we were playing,” Raposa said of a particularly enthused spectator. “He was a fan, but somehow it manifested itself that way. It was awesome.”

If making music hadn’t fallen into his lap, Raposa might be experiencing a very different lifestyle: “Driving Nascar. It’s fast, a lot of people get a lot of enjoyment out of it,” Raposa said of his alternative. “I think it’s a noble profession.”

Castanets recently finished recording a new album to follow 2005’s First Light’s Free, and is touring to promote their latest work, which currently has no set release date.

“I think it would be too early to say anything about it,” Raposa said. “I heard that it was good.”

—–

On their debut, Shapes and Sizes welcomes you: “We come from the wilderness / We come bearing gifts for you / We happen to like the city / We happen to like you, too.”

If the Canada-based band’s self-titled album is its salutation to the world, then their second album, Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner, is their triumphant proclamation to society – it’s a debutante’s coming out, a son’s rite of passage.

Although Split Lips – available in May – comes just 10 months after their first album, the band promises the maturation between the two is significant.

“On our first album, it was very obvious when a trumpet was a trumpet. On this album, we brought in a trumpet and distorted it,” bassist and vocalist Nathan Gages said. “We tried to find sounds or create abstract sounds that didn’t sound like an instrument.”

While the combined male and female voices on the first album sound like a fusion of Dismemberment Plan and Rilo Kiley, this next album will add in styles that Gages ambiguously described as “a little more foreign or alien” and “aggressive, less uppy.”

This is the predicted sound for their upcoming performance at the Halfass in East Quadrangle Residence Hall this Friday.

The band has taken huge strides in the past year, even though they’ve been together for four. The group exhibits a more complex persona than just another run-of-the-mill indie rock band from the North, deriving their songwriting power from sources beyond their own lives.

“They think we’re from an island,” Gages said. On the self-titled album’s first track, “Island Gone Bad,” listeners tend to take the lyrics literally, but their interpretations are often incorrect. “They equated it to an Adam and Eve story. It was funny listening to it afterwards because we could see where they got it from,” he said.

This interpretation doesn’t fit Shapes and Sizes’s real meaning for the song, which, for anyone who’s read “Lord of the Flies,” should conjure clear images of the island created by author William Golding. The words “Eating moms, eating dads / Children going bad” neither evoke visions of a biblical paradise gone awry nor describe any known province of Canada.

But Shapes and Sizes try not to fit into any mold one might expect – even those that they’ve created themselves. Realizing their own range and fan appeal, the band admits that their sound is “a little hard to pigeonhole.”

“We played this show in Louisville, Kentucky, and the moment we got into the bar, it was like, ‘These people aren’t going to like us.’ After the first song, the crowd went crazy and they really liked us,” Gages said.

Despite the fact that many of the shows they play are small and that they’re only on their first tour for the Asthmatic Kitty label (owned by Sufjan Stevens), forecasts promise an optimistic future for Shapes and Sizes. Having recently played alongside hundreds of bands at SXSW – including Cursive, Girl Talk and Apostle of Hustle – they might have the opportunity to reach for widespread fame.

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