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The Cave Singers – Welcome Joy [Album]

Posted in Album, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2010 by David Hall


Originally published at Sonic Dice, August 2009.

The title Welcome Joy can be read in a variety of differing ways; a sanctimonious religious command, an open-armed embrace or a positive observation concerning happiness perhaps. The Cave Singers’ sophomore album manages to convey the latter two without pretension, providing a lush and melodic listen. Former Pretty Girls Make Graves bassist Derek Fudesco has said in previous interviews that his guitar parts with The Cave Singers are essentially just bass riffs. This rings true on Welcome Joy, whose circular guitar arrangements inhabit the groove-based repetition of the most effective bass lines.

Welcome Joy begins with the appropriately-titled Summer Light, which recalls the look and feel of the album’s cover, its summery and warm touches of organ in the unfolding verses evoking the artworks’ orange tones. The cover is a nostalgic view of the world through an aperture that banishes modern figures like keyboards to the shot’s background. Similarly, Summer Light’s keys sound analogue, with folkish guitar and vocal arrangements that are also pleasingly old-fashioned; the evocative name equally recalls the song’s sound and feel. Female vocals in the background of the chorus line, “They’re damned if they’re right and they’re damned if they’re wrong, they don’t mind” are particularly divine. Singer Pete Quirk’s lyrics frequently stand out as strongly poetic, “Dance in the doldrums of each new day” further linking the semantic use of orange palettes to the visual. Leap’s frantic pulloff-hammer on riff is great, effortlessly propulsive when coupled with Marty Lund’s urgent drum track. Quirk’s raspy countrified vocals are excellent, mixed to be less gratingly abrasive than on debut Invitation Songs. A bridge sees the track really hitting its stride with a cymbal hit as bass enters and harmonica squawks in. The song evolves enchantingly as it forges ahead into another verse more urgent than the first; The Cave Singers clearly know where their strengths lie and adhere to their formula. Shrine’s quiet droning chorus is a departure and also a welcome one, ensuring that whilst verging on being formulaic at times, Welcome Joy steers clear of being predictable. This track is a case in point that these aren’t complex songs; they’re very simple, and I doubt the band would have a problem with that observation. The riff and appropriately Eastern percussion of Shrine follow on from Summers Light’s blissful glow, easy and reassuring in its tones. A middle eight briefly presses on noisily to skilfully maintain momentum before settling back into its meandering flow and quiet rumbling bass.

The most fleshed-out song yet Hen of the Woods incorporates nice distant rim shots and a riff reminiscent of Daughters of the Soho Riots or Start a War by The National. In its outro the track quickens to a country-tinged Sleater-Kinney-style guitar solo set against a shifting drum shuffle. Again the lyrics are carefully arranged, well written, considered and thoughtful on lines such as “Evening comes, it’s a curtain and a shawl”. They’re joyfully and sincerely delivered, again evocative of the album’s aged artwork in scenes of American prairies, sunsets and romance. Quirk sounds like an American David Gray on the pleasantly primitive Beach House – yes I know, these comparisons are meant to be achingly indie and obscure, but if the boot fits – even if the “just myself/no one else” chorus couplet is desperately unoriginal. I Don’t Mind, with its gentle high-capoed acoustic strum and more strident drums, follows Hen of the Woods’ lead in sounding less like Welcome Joy’s sketchier tracks. Despite the songs with a fuller drum sound generally being that bit more immediate (most tracks settle for a sparing New Slang-esque percussion track), this is arguably one of the album’s least memorable moments. VV sounds a bit like that cute I Tried to do Handstands for You iPod advert song with its calypso acoustic chord progression. The electric guitar riff recalls that from The Postal Service’s Recycled Air, only obviously less robotic; the chord sequence’s nicely merged variation in the bridge is particularly organic-sounding.

Welcome Joy sounds a lot more expansive than Invitation Songs, which sounded strangled at times by its limited component parts. At the Cut proves a natural punkabilly progression from previous track Leap’s folkabilly drumming, its rambling jangle reminiscent of the UK’s Sons and Daughters. There’s a certain world-weary wisdom to the singers voice here, mirrored by the vintage guitar’s ‘50’s tone in its solo. At the Cut is also a bit like Franz Ferdinand’s Ulysses in places (no, seriously), perhaps providing a bit of a British connection, which should go down well at this winter’s Shred Yr Face tour. Townships is simply gorgeous, an affective highlight which is probably the best track on the album. It features the most natural sounding riff, the least metronomic and most irregular, and a great semi-acoustic guitar tone. Quirk’s vocal is also one of his most natural deliveries, charmingly imperfect and almost croaky in places. The higher timbre to his multi-tracked vocal lends the track a transcendent, skyline-surfing feel. Chiming guitars coil around a semi-chanted chorus, recalling Fleet Foxes’s earthy yet spiritual melancholy sound. Bramble closes the album with a complex fingerpicked acoustic guitar intro resembling that of Leap a tad too closely for comfort. But on the positive side, like all songs on Welcome Joy there is nothing more to Bramble than there needs to be. It’s a very stark and natural beauty that this album carries, like a beautiful model photographed without makeup or a woodland copse untouched by human hands. A natural reverb on the vocal lends it a stark and atmospheric demo-like quality.

When reviewing The Low Anthem’s Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, I briefly considered whether or not to recommend it to fans of The Cave Singers. This was on the basis that both bands have a stark, unembellished and definitively American sound; they also exhibit the same rootsy, lo-fi sensibilities, which produce their latest records’ appealing personalities. However, I foolishly decided against doing so, due to my belief that Cave Singers were probably too little-known over here at this point. I anticipate being proved wrong in thinking so in the near future, after the exposure the aforementioned Shred Yr Face jaunt and this latest excellent release will gain them.

9 out of 10.

Sonic Dice score: 5 out of 6

Townships on Spotify
Taking the best elements of other highlights Summer Light and Hen of the Woods, Townships practically sounds like it was painted.

Matador
The Cave Singers on Myspace

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