words by RAJ DAYAL
Peter Quirk, frontman of the Seattle indie-folk outfit, The Cave Singers, has a nasally gravel through a wind-tunnel voice that seems forged by the Pacific Northwest. Quirk was previously in the punk band Hint Hint, and other members split time between Pretty Girls Make Graves, The Murder City Devils and Cobra High. Newly added Morgan Henderson served time with indie-icons Fleet Foxes. The punk /hardcore history of the individual bandmates to date belies the pastoral indie-folk of their current group.
Their new album, Naomi, is their fourth in five years and the second for label Jagjaguwar. They brought on Phil Ek—who has worked with Fleet Foxes, Built to Spill and the Shins among others—to produce. The result is a rich tone with a pronounced bottom-end. And while Naomi, with its bright guitars and upbeat melodies, is not as downtrodden as their previous, No Witch, the band is still concerned with the difficulties of living and loving in the modern world—even if those concerns are as mundane as owning a car (“Karen’s Car”).
The album’s first single, “Have to Pretend,” is one of its few highlights and demonstrates their most assured songcraft through biting lyricism and expert musicianship. The chorus showcases the cynical edge of the track. When Quirk wails, “See, man, the hopeless have to pretend,” he sounds as if he’s trying to convince himself as he searches for a way to cope. The track’s light ebullient bounce and danceable groove plays in stark contrast to the mood.
The musicianship of The Cave Singers is never in question—they’re all solid musicians. Derek Fudesco’s guitar lines practically shimmer and Marty Lund provides a pulsating rhythm that moves everything along nicely. However, the songs on Naomi, while thematically linked to love and loss, verge into jam-band territory with pat lyrics, such as, “She was better than my best dream, she was …” on the track, “Evergreens.”
While they’re often compared to Fleet Foxes, The Cave Singers are actually looser, and even more reckless. This should work in their favor, but they seldom allow it to come to the forefront.
One of the other standout tracks on the album, “It’s a Crime,” ably demonstrates how well this can work for them. Quirk sounds as if he’s channeling classic Creedence and having a devilish good time doing it. The band veers away from their folk-music constraints and it feels like they’re losing control, especially when Quirk exhaustedly yelps during the final chorus. It’s a welcomed addition to an album that too often sounds just ordinary.
On Naomi, the Cave Singers don’t really fail at anything; however, save for a couple of moments, they don’t offer up anything all that memorable either. [C+]
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