On its self-titled sophomore album, New York City’s Caveman opens with a gentle, polished harmony called “Strange To Suffer,” and it hints at a bigger and more ambitious sound than any found on the band’s debut LP, CoCo Beware. This latest work is the group’s first recording with a label in place, as the debut was originally put out on its own imprint before getting picked up by Fat Possum. With the label in tow, the quintet entered into a more sufficient Brooklyn studio with bits and pieces of songs that were born from a band retreat to a New Hampshire barn attic belonging to guitarist Jimmy Carbonetti’s grandmother. Once again featuring producer, and French Kicks member, Nick Stumpf, Caveman boasts a cohesive, contemplative mood throughout its 12 tracks of lush indie pop built from wistful melodies backed by textural guitars, tribal-like percussion and drifting synth lines.
Early on, the album makes a statement with the powerful, electro-pop track “In The City,” which has singer Matthew Iwanusa calling out in a yearning, expressive tone. Sam Hopkins’s beaming synths lend a bright, impacting energy to the song, and the crooning vocals are comparable to the lush, romantic elements that made M83′s “Midnight City” such a monstrous hit. It’s followed by “Shut You Down,” which is a subdued, slow-burning track, more in line with CoCo Beware standouts like “Old Friend” and “Great Life.” Still though, there is a difference in how the polyphonic vocals interconnect in the mix. Rather than separate tracks of voices, here they blend together, creating a melancholic atmosphere.
Lyrically, what sticks out about Caveman is the introspective accounts that find Iwanusa battling those who stand in the way of change. “Where’s The Time” opens with him calling out to nature in a very Robin Pecknold way and asking the embittered question, “Where is the time to waste on someone else’s life?” As the song develops, the contemplation is nudged along by deep, rhythmic thuds on the toms by drummer Stefan Marolachakis. Similarly, on “Prices,” amidst shimmering strokes of the guitar and a particularly thick line from bassist Jeff Berrall, the singer declares he “won’t waste my time on you.” Whether it’s a nasty breakup, tragic loss or aspirations for something bigger, the words suggest that change has no place for anything that attempts to negatively occupy the limited time we have. As the closing track reprises the harmony from “Strange To Suffer,” it bookends the album with the same wondering with which it began. Despite whatever achievements we make in overcoming different hardships, each new one that’s encountered is every bit as strange and uncomfortable.
Although it meanders for periods, Caveman’s self-titled is a well-crafted collection of songs that feels assured of itself and captures a consistent temperament of joyful exploration. Using a variety of instruments to build layers of eclectic sounds on each track, the band brings you into its clubhouse with ease. Once you’re inside, the camaraderie of these long-tenured friends that was solidified in that attic barn shines through.