Fat Possum Records
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Strange to Suffer
In the City
Shut You Down
Where’s the Time
Over My Head
I See You
I Never Want to Know
The Big Push
Matthew Iwanusa – lead vocals, guitar
Jimmy “Cobra” Carbonetti – guitar
Stefan Marolachakis – drums, vocals
Sam Hopkins – synthesizer, vocals
Jeff Berrall – bass, vocals
New York-based quintet Caveman released their impressive and moody debut Coco Beware in 2011; the album landed at number 4 on this site’s Best of List in 2011 behind Swedish band Fredrik’s gorgeous Flora at number 3; Scattered Trees’ Sympathy, at number 2,an album inspired and informed by the death of the lead singer’s father and the-then near breakup of his band, which hit a personal chord for me as I had dealt with my father’s death and the messy breakup of a nearly 7 year relationship; and Mayer Hawthorne’s wonderful Impressions: The Covers EP, which was that year’s number 1. Initially released independently and receiving critical praise across the blogosphere (take that, multi-national conglomerates!), Fat Possum Records signed the band and re-released Coco Beware to a much larger audience in 2012. Naturally, as a result, the band and its debut effort had started to become something of a national phenomenon within about a year or so of its founding. A seemingly overnight success story, indeed!
With such a critically praised debut effort fans and critics, including myself had been anxiously awaiting a follow up to Coco Beware. Paradoxically to some, the most difficult album for most artists and bands isn’t their debut; it’s their sophomore effort, especially if their debut was wildly successful. Perhaps more than ever, the artist has to ask themselves several profoundly soul bearing questions of themselves and of their art such as: How do they show artistic growth without alienating early fans and supporters? In the case of bands that have achieved widespread success: how do they deal with the contradictory and volatile nature of the music industry – an industry who will love you as though you’re the hottest thing ever at one moment, then hate you and wish for your demise the next? The same industry who will tell you how you need to change and keep up the same thing? Additionally, the sophomore effort is sometimes seen by the band or the artist as an opportunity to fix the glaring missteps of the debut; but what if the debut effort is a considered a perfect (or nearly perfect) album?
Fat Possum Records released Caveman’s self-titled effort back in early April, and the new effort reveals a band that has the band stretching their (proverbial) creative legs with a subtle yet profound expansion of their sound. With the release of “In the City,” the first official single off the album, you’ll hear the same eerily, haunting and beautiful melodies but the song, like the rest of the album manages to be as atmospheric as U2’s The Unforgettable Fire – it creates more space for Iwanusa’s plaintive falsetto and a series of gorgeous solos by Carbonetti that manage to sweetly shimmer and chime. But the major difference is that the material is far less percussive than Coco Beware – there’s a greater emphasis on synths propelling the song and several others throughout the album in a way that may remind many listeners of Peter Gabriel’s early 1980s work. In any case, the song is simply entrancing. “Shut You Down” is a subdued and dreamy ballad with a melody and harmony that are both gorgeous and haunting. The song, which is mostly done with guitar, drums and vocals ends with chiming guitar chords, layered with subtle synths before quietly fading out like a dream. “Where’s the Time” is probably the one track that bears an obvious similarity to any of the tracks of Coco Beware; however, it maintains the same cohesive mood and tone, as the rest of the album. “Chances” begins as a hushed love song before slowly building up in intensity as the lyrics describes a forlorn lover who recognizes that he’s losing his love, and that there’s nothing he could really do about it. There’s also this sense that the narrator of the song realizes that this love will be a ghost in his life that will haunt him for quite some time. “Pricey” really reminds me quite a bit of The Unforgettable Fire and even down to its gorgeous guitar solo. “I See You” really changes things up with a simple approach – Iwamusa on acoustic guitar, crooning the lyrics in a plaintive, devastatingly sincere fashion, backed by drums and ambient droning.
As one critic admitted, there is a point towards the middle of the album where the material briefly feels kind of torpid and slow moving. Indeed some of the material begins to sound the same – sort of. And in some way, they’re right, because it’s a slight misstep; in another way, they’re wrong. They missed what seems to be obvious influence of U2 on the material but a slight change in mood or tone could have (and perhaps should have) worked. Still, whereas countless bands have succumbed to the pressures of evolving and producing impressive work, the quintet of Caveman have shown a willingness and fearlessness in the face of artistic evolution – the material is richer, more subtle and manages to be hauntingly gorgeous. It’s an album that makes a confident statement – that Caveman isn’t a fly by night, one album wonder.