Release Date: Mar 5, 2013
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Neo-Traditional Folk, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
The Cave Singers’ members all started in post-punk and hardcore bands like Pretty Girls Make Graves, Hint Hint and Cobra High, which makes their Pacific Northwest brand of rootsy folk-rock worthy of a raised eyebrow. But four albums into a solid career, the Seattle group has long moved past the comparisons, focusing instead on consistently releasing catchy records and delivering exciting live shows. What originally began as a trio with singer Pete Quirk, guitarist Derek Fudesco and drummer Marty Lund, recently evolved into quartet with the addition of bassist/flutist Morgan Henderson (who also performed with such diverse acts as the Blood Brothers and Fleet Foxes).
Afropop is back. Well, it’s been back – or did it ever even leave? With Paul Simon’s foray in South African township jive music on his 1986 masterwork Graceland (and his following world music albums throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s), a marked rise of African influence in western pop music came about. More recently, Vampire Weekend has been making white boys’ dance with chilly, colourful African rhythms and eastern-tinged melodies.
Despite its relatively small radius, Seattle’s music scene is close-knit, yet eclectic. The Cave Singers’ fourth full-length album, Naomi, not only features a new band member—Morgan Henderson of Blood Brothers and Fleet Foxes fame—but was recorded by Phil Ek, who has also recorded Fleet Foxes, Built To Spill and other once-Washingtonians like Band of Horses and Modest Mouse, at his Avast Studios. The mixing of influences from this metropolitan community certainly shines through on tracks like “Have to Pretend” and “Evergreens.” And with roots in the Pacific Northwest punk scene, The Cave Singers are essentially punk rockers making folk music.
Before Naomi, my only prior acquaintance with the Cave Singers had been their debut LP Invitation Songs (2007), a pleasing slice of rustic fingerpicked folk that aside from a few production touches stood resolutely out of time. So imagine my surprise when I started digging into their new full-length from Jagjaguwar and happened upon an unexpected revelation: these guys have discovered how to rock. Or, to be more accurate, they have fully reconnected with their rock roots after having started out conjuring as pre-rock an aesthetic as they could.
There have been some developments between the sometimes more haunted, earlier Cave Singers albums and the 12 freewheeling tracks that make up Naomi. 2011's eclectic No Witch saw the band opting for a more electrified sound, blasting apart the more campfire-friendly fare of their first two albums. Naomi leans closer to the earlier sound, but the inclusion of new bassist Morgan Henderson (who also does time as the bassist in Fleet Foxes) adds a depth that wasn't there before.
The Cave Singers formed from the remains of Pretty Girls Make Graves, and have found a niche in the stripped-down, soft rocking folk that has been perfected by the likes of Bon Iver and The Tallest Man On Earth. On Naomi, their fourth full-length album, the group presents a batch of highly competent folk rock. However, the album's lack of any type of variance from the formula leave it feeling more like a folk-by-numbers exercise, something manufactured more than created.
Remember back in 2004? We were beginning to recover from the shock of indie’s regeneration after a decade dominated by grunge, nu-metal and pop-punk; Bright Eyes, Death Cab, and a whole host of other bands featured on The OC’s soundtracks, were dominant. Seattle quartet Cave Singers’ brand of warm, somewhat earnest indie-folk harks back to that West Coast golden age, and the tradition of sun-drenched, mellow guitar-centric indie. In fact, the past clients of Naomi’s producer give a fairly solid run-down of the band’s influences; the Shins, Fleet Foxes, and Modest Mouse amongst others.
In 2011, The Cave Singers abandoned the minimalism that defined their first two records, tore a page out of Dylan’s book, and went electric. The band’s raspy-voiced frontman Peter Quirk called the result, No Witch, “sort of the end of a trilogy.” The Seattle group’s new era means the addition of a bass player; the band’s long-time friend Morgan Henderson (formally of Blood Brothers and Fleet Foxes) hopped on board to turn this trio into a fuller, new-and-improved quartet. As a result, the band strays from its rustic early days — albeit slighly.
The Cave Singers sound like a garage band that formed during a garage sale, songs taking cues from milk crates, and cut down to a price anyone can afford. “Back to basics” feels like the appropriate term to use, given the easily-replicable parts of each song written: faithfully-moderate bass, drums, stand-alone vocals, and guitars no more three layers deep. At its simplest, a song will have no more than four bass notes, a ringing guitar line, vocals doing the rest (‘Evergreens’).
‘Naomi’ is not an album to run up, crack you on the back of the head with a cosh, bundle you into a van, drive you to a remote basement and refuse to allow you to leave until you agree that it is amongst the finest collections of tracks ever arranged in sequential fashion for the pleasure of a listening member of the public.However, it is a perfectly pleasant, totally reasonable way of spending 50-ish minutes. An album that you can put your feet up with. An album whose glow you can bask in.
Peter Quirk, frontman of the Seattle indie-folk outfit, The Cave Singers, has a nasally gravel through a wind-tunnel voice that seems forged by the Pacific Northwest. Quirk was previously in the punk band Hint Hint, and other members split time between Pretty Girls Make Graves, The Murder City Devils and Cobra High. Newly added Morgan Henderson served time with indie-icons Fleet Foxes.