Though it’s feasible to suggest that Caveman singer Matthew Iwanusa sounds like the lovechild of James Mercer (The Shins) and Band of Horses’ Ben Birdwell (maybe a stretch), I’d counter that that’s both impossible and somewhat irrelevant, given the collective musical differences between the bands. No, Iwanusa and by extension, Caveman, are a much more deliberate and clever group — able to draw from a wealth of influences and then quite tactfully, instill their own musical template for use and reuse. Here, on their second full-length release, the self-titled Caveman LP, the guys go to great lengths to maintain this “prototype” — to control their form — to replenish motifs until the listener is lulled into some kind of meditative reverie. In that respect, Caveman nearly amounts to concept record status, only one that features implied moods and atmosphere over direct themes.
From the faux-tribal, cyclical rhythm section and the all-encompassing blankets of synth, to the meaty bass and the distantly shimmering guitars. It’s a sound-blend can aurally captivate — inspiring able juxtapositions of warmth, against airy backgrounds of dark, cold isolation. The band also does well by letting their singer shine atop the compacted arrangements, propelling their most appealing asset to the forefront. Indeed, Iwanusa’s engaging vocal (dipped in reverb for extra smoothness) goes a long way to dignify the band’s efforts here; potentially abetting the separation of Caveman from the vast others in the American-indie-band swarm. No easy task these days. Of course, if the songs were shit, nobody would care. Fortunately, there are a few undeniable gems hidden within this decidedly competent, yet fairly regimented track listing before us.
Making a sly entrance with the floating (and later reprising) “Strange to Suffer” motif, the quintet then wisely enter into the Shins inspired, “In the City” — a tune that does what “A Country’s King of Dreams” did for their debut album, Coco Beware, only better. And, well it does it bigger too — flaunting the band’s interest in trading room-sized, coziness, for an even bigger and brighter, all-encompassing sense of atmosphere. True to their task then, each track follows suit, melding individual components into a wash of echoing, melodic statements that occasionally feel like meandering quests (the plodding, “Where’s The Time”) — though hardly, if ever, unpleasant.
Album highlight, “Over My Head”, drops from space around the midway point and lays swift claim to the LP’s most densely layered and similarly, its most poignant moment. Like a much less weird, modern-indie version of Pink Floyd, “Over My Head” is totally arresting, both melodically and instrumentally — creating a virtual synth-cocoon (tinged with sadness) that may or may not cause spontaneous flotation. Elsewhere, Caveman delves into ‘80s U2 territory with the Edge-like guitar strums of “Pricey” (except around two minutes when it totally becomes a Cure song) and shows a refreshing sense of release (relatively speaking) on “Never Want to Know” — Caveman’s own quasi-response for more Bends-era Radiohead.
Putting that whole “‘sophomore slump” idea to bed, Caveman have managed to outdo themselves by crafting an engrossing, catchy album that’s worthy of a respectably larger audience. That it comes off a bit too orchestrated and muted around the edges isn’t a large criticism, but it sure would be interesting to hear the band let loose for a change. They’ve got the songs and definitely the singer. Maybe next time — for now, this is still a trip worth taking.