The second album from the New York City quintet Caveman is an average effort perfumed with average effects to conceal the stench of the rotting corpse of its very average rock formula. On the strength of their self-released and amusingly-titled debut album CoCo Beware in 2011, Caveman were snapped up by Communion Records in the UK. What’s followed is this rather unamusingly bland work, which boasts little to beware of. It’s more like you should be very wary.
First, the positives: it’s well-recorded. Handled by Nick Stumpf (drummer/singer for fellow NYC band French Kicks), he manages to coax some beautiful and languid tones out of Jeff Berall’s bass that underpin much of the album. This is especially true of the slow-motion haze that unfurls on Over My Head, which is easily the best song here. It’s Berall’s playing that ultimately props up all of the navel-gazing cookie cutter-psychedelic effects on this album, while his bandmates seem convinced that by turning all of their contributions into a big muddy mess of whooshy sounds and unconvincing pastoral experiments is a good idea.
Ooops. The positives, right? There is a lovely little Pixies-esque head fake of an intro on Pricey, which seems to promise an impending explosion for the listener – but instead sends the tune careening along on the back of another sweet-as-a-peach bassline from Berall. And despite totally overcrowding the album with his every-little-bit-helps whimsical guitar trickery, it’s James Carbonetti’s riff on the low-key romp of Shut You Down that is cleverly seductive, and it’s followed by a rather tasteful solo.
Now for the negatives. The band seems to have aimed to replicate the maturity and slow-burning pace that is both customary and compelling when employed by rock balladeers such as Bill Callahan or John Grant on his Midlake-backed Queen Of Denmark record. But Caveman fail to pack the requisite ideas or finesse – and they certainly don’t have the singer to make it work. No matter what sicko MOR-laced world you inhabit, the singing of Matthew Iwanusa just doesn’t cut the mustard. Sure, he’s a MetOpera protégé and has a nice enough delivery but he does nothing to push the envelope vocally. And forget about the lyrics. One sniff of Where’s The Time? and half-baked lines such as: “I was not afraid to try/ To the fairest of the sky/ Still it’s not OK to try/ Where’s the time to waste on someone else’s life?” and you’ll be rolling in the aisle.
Often, it’s quite hard to even discern what Iwanusa is singing about thanks to the cacophony of Phil Collins-esque synthesizers and Carbonetti’s obsession with peppering guitar tidbits all over the place, cramming them into every nook and cranny like some kind of deranged hoarder. And perhaps that’s a good thing as there’s not a moment of profundity to be found in Iwanusa’s ramblings anyway, which largely appear to be even more hapless than the dirge of radio-friendly, self-indulgent pap rock that finally chokes this album – and the listener – into a lifeless submission.