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Cabinessence

Naked Friends

(Spark & Shine; US: 16 Mar 2010; UK: 16 Mar 2010)

Some bands make music perfect for gloomy overcast days, biting winds, thick wool coats, and grim introspection. Cabinessence is not that kind of band. These songs are the soundtrack to sunny days and summertimes, long drives along twisting coastal roads, and strolls through fields of wildflowers. The vibe is relentlessly upbeat, but manages to avoid turning sachharine through impeccable musicianship and lively, complex arrangements.


Beach Boys comparisons are probably inevitable given the band’s name, and there are hints of the Byrds and poppier Beatles as well, but the band manages to be more than a throwback nostalgia trip or even a clever pastiche of sunshine/country/classic rock tropes. Opener “Thought/Start” kicks off the proceedings with a lively keyboard and guitar lope, joined by judicious wah-wah licks and smoothly harmonized vocals. “Blown a Test” follows up in a more countrified vein, complete with pedal steel accents, but the song owes more to California than Nashville. “How I Learned” channels retro-rock into a sort of revisited “Ballad of John and Yoko” or “One After 909”—or any number of songs you can think of. The tune chugs along agreeably, though at this point the listener might start to wonder what, if anything, the band can bring to the table that is in any way new.


The short answer to that is: nothing much. But around the middle of the record—with game-changer “Pray”—something interesting begins to happen. Cabinessence leaves behind the more obvious homage/influences of its opening salvo of tunes, and begins to morph into something looser and more soulful. There are still obvious touchstones, but the rock ‘n’ roll stew of early ‘70s Traffic is a less-tapped vein than some others, and the songs benefit too from less restriction. Shifting from three minutes-plus to four minutes-plus may not sound like much, but the tunes themselves certainly seem to take advantage of the extra breathing room.


“The Poet” is a strong song that, annoyingly, reminds me of Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home” every time I hear the opening chords (thanks a million, guys), but the record closes with a number of loose, complex, vaguely jammy tunes that perfectly acknowledge their illustrious predecessors without remaining overly beholden to them. “Should’ve Known” gugles along on a layer of funky keybords and organ bubbles that would have made the Band proud; murky harmonica licks just add to the fun. Despite the lyrics exhorting one to “shake your moneymaker” and so forth, the vocals are delivered in a kind of bluesy half-moan, half-whine that conveys just the right degree of wistful desperation. “Consider the Source,” keeps the free-flowing groove alive in a slightly more uptempo fashion, and threatens to devolve into a free-form guitar freakout around the 2:30 mark. It never quite happens, but it’s fun nonetheless to hear the instrumentation engage in a small scale fuzz orgy.


There are a handful of less-interesting tunes on the record too, but these are relatively few. At their best, Cabinessence manages to capture the easygoing but still focused sound of a collective of musicians hell-bent on having a good time.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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