Past reviews from this writer have touted a band’s choice in producer. And while James Murphy is arguably as good a choice as any band can make, Cadillac Sky‘s decision to go with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach deserves not as much attention. While Auerbach’s blues-rock background and experience as an indie darling deserve merit for the album’s existence, the band undoubtedly needed little in the way of molding. Instead, one can make a conjecture that Auerbach’s role was to lightly direct the band as they powered through an album that bounces back and forth from blues to rock to country to folk to jazz and beyond, creating an effort that is as powerful in its reach sonically as it is heartwrenching and hopeful.
The highlights of the album are where the lines between genres are at their most razor thin. “Bathsheeba” and “Kiddie Pool Rag” may as well be one track. As a sum, they’re light and bubbly ragtime music, a song that melts down into a rapid stream of consciousness that takes that dynamic energy and spins into some folksy punk track like an Appalachian Ted Leo. There are Beach Boys-esque harmonies, plenty of strings and plucking, and a ton of heart and gusto. There’s more of the same strewn throughout “Trash Bag”, a grandiose piece led by piano that rockets skyward. “Hypocrite” is like some Iron & Wine track: a conventional acoustic folk song dressed up with the modern trappings of some cerebral poetry. “Trapped Under the Ice” is kind of the same thing, but like a more folky blend of some Modest Mouse and The Avett Brothers.
“3rd Degree” is a dynamic track that, in the beginning, features the wail of musical instruments carrying a voice that cracks with the energy of a particularly emotional pop song. The music explodes forward, kept only in check by that voice that strains onward. “Human Cannonball” kind of continues the device of building a very old sound with a uniquely populist vocal styling. It’s less what you’d expect; while it has the Southern tinge, there’s a universal appeal to it for those without love for the twang.
The album’s more traditional songs, those without tweaks and bits of musical spice, are more abundant and less musically appealing. However, these are the songs most likely to elicit an emotional response. “Pitiful Waltz” and “Part of My Heart” stand out, but there’s the line in “Tired Old Phrases” that is so alive it almost breathes: “I don’t know if I’ve said anything/In this life that’s worth remembering/Nothing bold, nothing brave/Just these tired old phrases/And I don’t know what they mean.” The line speaks volumes about their musical choices (much of the same, tired and true choices without much innovation), but at the same time, that kind of personal understanding is ripe with feeling and is truly impactful. The band is reliant on a lot of great personal context to draw from, more focused on crafting heartbreakers as their lasting legacy, leaving the genre-bending as mere exploration for the sheer fun of it. And I dare you not to think of some forgotten relationship to the sounds of “Ballad of Restored Confidence”, the catchiest self-help device since Stuart Smalley from SNL.
It should be noted that the album isn’t the instant classic it appears. Instead of an instant barn-burner, the songs build and feed off of one another to create an album that’s as a whole rich and diverse and with plenty of experimentation, all while maintaining that constant, nagging thread of undeniable emotion. Across years of music, Cadillac Sky has synthesized the musically similar and polar opposites alike for a future that is bright regardless of who is behind the boards.