Caveman Caveman(Fat Possum) Buy it from Insound
Is the self-titled sophomore album by Brooklyn indie rock quintet Caveman “expansive?” Why, yes, you could definitely argue that by listening to the group’s dense arrangements, but stop for moment and ask yourself, “What are they expanding from?” Do the song's intricate flourishes and subtle builds take the songs to new, exciting places or transform it in any way, and are they at least built on fundamental musical elements like melody and atmosphere? Well, Caveman certainly takes an honest crack at transforming these elements, but unfortunately, doesn't succeed in crafting neither strong melody nor atmosphere. Featuring twelve sloooooooow-burning tracks that build in the same way raising the volume knob counts as a build, Caveman attempts to create lush, pervasive environments through meticulously crafted pop soundscapes, but instead their hard work succeeds in creating the sonic equivalent of a loud, unenthusiastic yawn.
Of course, this isn’t a very surprising move for the band. Their self-released debut, 2011’s Coco Beware, was no sparkplug, incorporating many of the least impressive elements of groups like Grizzly Bear and Local Natives while adding little to no personality of their own into the mix. However, the album's bright, jangly guitars did provide a few enjoyable melodies with tracks like the bouncy My Time and Old Friend. However, in a move that adds virtually nothing, the group dials down the guitars a bit on Caveman in favor of retro-aged synth washes to support most tracks. The band uses synths for purposes of both atmosphere and melody, but since the group never convincingly pushes either to the forefront, tracks like the woozy Over My Head and The Big Push feel more like being lost in a droning 80’s hair product commercial framed by a fuzzy pink border.
“Droning” is a pretty excellent way to describe this album, because despite the fact that no song exceeds 6 minutes, nearly every track on Caveman vastly overstays its welcome and gives you little reason to stick around to the end to see where the band will go next. That’s mainly because the album doesn’t really do a lot of traveling, as tracks tend to hover along like a blimp at comfortable altitudes, with the album ending in plain sight of where it started. The musicians do their best to make their arrangements more robust, working in numerous flourishes throughout tracks like Where’s the Time and Never Want to Know. But while they prove to be experts at fleshing out songs like ornate paintings, they make almost no effort to take their sonic landscapes to new, unexplored territories, with nearly all of the albums sonic elements, from its tempo to the reverb on the guitars, remaining stubbornly consistent throughout. It’s like the band is more satisfied with hovering in the same, stationary position while slowly decorating themselves with Christmas ornaments to see if anyone would notice.
Caveman isn’t without its redeemable moments. Lead single In the City proves the band is at least capable of providing strong, infectious melodies while also demonstrating singer Matt Iwanusa’s capabilities as a vocalist, and I See You, which acts as a bit of a folky interlude to their droning pastiche, is an intimate, sparse, and well deserved break from the albums 80’s soaked glow. But as well as these songs stand out within the album it’s already in, they still do very little to stand out on their own, and are ultimately just as forgettable as everything else on the album.
The bottom line here is that this is a boring album, plain and simple. Typically, I feel that “boring” is a pretty poor way to describe art, as anyone could say anything is boring if it doesn’t pertain to their interests or, worse yet, provide some sort of cheap thrill to enjoy while chugging Red Bulls. However, Caveman’s latest has made a pretty strong case to earn such a weak descriptor. Despite the group’s attention to detail, it’s really difficult to find anything within Caveman’s dull, predictable environments that allows it to stand out from their fellow bandwagoning Brooklynites. Maybe I unfairly went into this album expecting more than “Songs to Stare Vacantly at Stuff To,” but I’d be willing to bet that what we have here is a strong contender for “Most Forgettable Album of 2013.”10 April, 2013 - 04:03 — Peter Quinton