Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Cave Singers Squint To See Naomi

The Cave Singers
While it's easy to frame up Naomi by The Cave Singers as an expectant fourth album that plays mostly to its slowest niche, doing so sells some of its subtler elements short. There are a few gems amidst an album made of mostly sunbeams.

Sure, the band seems to have given up some grittier qualities that accompanied its neo-folk beginnings on Invitation Songs or the wildly trippy brilliance that accompanied No Witch. There have been other changes too; Phil Ek signed on as producer and Morgan Henderson (Fleet Foxes) signed on to play bass.

When you consider some of most recent albums produced by Ek, including Heaven by The Walkmen, Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes, and Fear Fun by Father John Misty, his influence feels even more pronounced on Naomi. He tends to help bands craft songs and ease up their instruments.

The Cave Singers stay true to a couple tunes on Naomi.

While there is plenty to like about the chemistry and composition of the 12-track album, the best tracks still have more bite like the some of the band's previous releases. The best track to collect is It's A Crime. It carries some of the twang that makes frontman Pete Quirk so addictive of a listen, especially when it's played live.

The angst in the track is media feeding your girl fear, contrasted with a stripped back trash guitar riff. The studio version plays the same, but without as much cracking passion as Quirk puts on stage.

This is what almost makes the entire album misleading as Have To Pretend plays different live too. They all do. It's part of who Quirk is as a singer. He gives back much of what the audience gives him.

And then there is the poetic cadence in the music, sheets of lyrics that almost never repeat. No Tomorrows is just one example as Quirk searches for the quiet resolve somewhere in between losing someone and realizing that it will be all right. Canopy plays the same way with a different message. There is a sense of atonement in the tone and a resolution in knowing that everything will be fine.

The irony is what makes the album work makes it not work for reviewers. 

It's really difficult to call Naomi a great album because it only comes across as a good album. And yet, more accurately, it is a great album that only masquerades as a good album because the arrangements don't feel dynamic enough to challenge Derek Fudesco (The Murder City Devils) on guitar or Marty Lund on drums. Even Quirk is restrained in order to make the fuller sound that Ek albums frequently find.

The Cave Singers
The idea was likely to showcase the lyrics alongside the familiar structures because the album is a celebration of the beauty found in the every day — addiction, car ownership, fireworks, tree houses. So with the exception of the addictively classic It's A Crime or Paul Simon reminiscent song Shine, most the album relies on simple melodies and hooks and deeply wrought lyrics.

If previous albums explored the dark, this one explores the light because the band wanted to make their music a cure as one lyric line suggests — I'm done with sorrow, don't need to follow. And by that self-defined measure, the album does work. The only downside is that you have work to hear it that way.

Naomi By The Cave Singers Follows 3.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The album was named after the farthest star within sight. They chose her to be their fictional muse, a quiet reflection that hopes to make miracles out of the mundane. It does that, even if the other side of the coin suggests there are only two ways to listen to this album — on a still day just before or after the rain when you're alone or interwoven with the last three albums by The Cave Singers to mix it up.

Give a couple tracks some time and you might find a few that are timeless. They were meant to be that way, with Quirk and company taking months to write them and one month to record them. You can find Naomi on Amazon. It also available for download from iTunes or on vinyl at Barnes & Noble.
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