Caveman allegedly gave birth to the songs that would become their sophomore record in a barn lit by Christmas lights in New Hampshire. “We’d all sit in this one room together and one by one we’d all go into the bathroom and record ourselves making the most psycho noises possible,” said frontman Matthew Iwanusa. Whatever the story’s truth, that psychosis landed nowhere near Caveman, whose palette is as familiar as the myth of finding one’s sound in New England isolation.
While the band’s debut CoCo Beware was a guitar record augmented by synths, Caveman lets analog electronics fill more of the space. The album starts with Fleet Foxes coos, evaporates into War on Drugs haze, plods through Radiohead territory, echoes The Antlers’ Undersea EP, and, on “Shut You Down” and “Ankles”, even settles into a couple of Tears for Fears grooves. The atmosphere is moodier, but the melodies aren’t. The lyrics are the same barely-there genericisms that were more or less forgivable on Caveman’s debut.
CoCo Beware cleverly changed up its rules, pulling startling hooks out of scrappy verses with an impeccable sense of melody. But because Caveman simmers at the same murky tempo for 45 minutes, even the melodies start to lose their sweetness. It’s only on “I See You”, when the electronics shrink to a distant murmur, that Iwanusa’s earthy tenor bares its vulnerability. Everywhere else, he’s just the top layer on a pile of by-the-book synth-rock.
As they turn their focus away from guitars, Caveman crash right into the problems that plague too much guitar rock: a lack of dynamics or surprises, a blurry identity, and a surfeit of Radiohead runoff.
Essential Tracks: “I See You”