Remember Local Natives? Me, neither.
All right, that’s not quite fair. The Los Angeles quartet, they of syrupy harmonies and auxiliary percussion, had a bona fide hit on its hands with Gorilla Manor, its 2010 debut. That record came out in February, and by the time year-end lists rolled around in December, many of the writers who expressed such love for Gorilla Manor’s breezy pop somehow forgot entirely about the band when doing their final calculations. “Airplanes” still pops up on a mix CD in a friend’s car every now and then, but Local Natives seem to me to be another example of the tidal in-and-out pull of the indie blogosphere.
Move forward a year, and a few thousand miles to Brooklyn, and you’ll arrive at the feet of Caveman and its debut, CoCo Beware. The group, led by yet another pleasant-voiced Brooklynite, Matthew Iwanusa, gets a lot of love in its hometown. For instance, Caveman was one of the “must-see” acts at 2011’s CMJ Music Festival, drawing buzz in a year where the festival had no clear hype-hoarders (for my money, the breakout act of the week was the beguiling Purity Ring. Since then, Caveman has headlined NYC’s wonderful Bowery Ballroom and received a write-up in the New York Times. New York takes care of its own.
But a resume isn’t everything. Caveman certainly fits with a growing trend of non-threatening, wistful indie rock, the ranks of which range from the seriously talented (Bon Iver) to the what-might-have-been (Band of Horses) to the insipid (Death Cab for Cutie). You can’t fault a band for not wanting to offend. You can, though, fault them for putting you to sleep. That Local Natives record, as forgettable as many critics apparently found it to be, had some seriously endearing pop songcraft to deliver. Energetic, confident, subtly complex stuff (the steady momentum of “Wide Eyes,” the contagious warmth of “Who Knows Who Cares”). Caveman comes from comparable DNA, with a predilection for harmonies and plenty of attention given to the snare rim, but it doesn’t manage anything nearly as engaging as its Los Angeles counterparts’ similar explorations.
Sometimes, as on the uptempo “My Time” or the steady “Thankful,” these elements click into place. Reverb and a clear tenor and brushed snares should make you feel, you know, pretty nice. Too often on CoCo Beware, Caveman crosses the line from “admirable restraint” to “unintentional lullaby”. Aside from a handful of hooks and choruses, when CoCo Bewares finishes playing, it’s nearly impossible to remember a single note that just came through your speakers. Local Natives probably has another solid record up its collective sleeves. Caveman might have one, as well, but CoCo Beware isn’t it.
- Multiple songs MySpace