Album Review: Caracara – ‘New Preoccupations’

Posted: by The Editor

I was listening to Dirty Projectors,” Caracara vocalist Will Lindsay near-shouts on “Colorglut,” the third track on his band’s sophomore full-length New Preoccupations, in perhaps the most instructive lyric on the album. See, before, Caracara always existed in the weird liminal space between emo and indie rock, and on New Preoccupations, they’ve chosen a side. For Lindsay and company, David Longstreth’s eclectic art rock is the guiding light on the band’s long journey out of the emo scene, in much the same way as Radiohead was a touchstone for Foxing when they made a similar leap on Nearer My God. One of the band’s strengths previously was their amorphousness; it seems they got tagged as emo for the people they collaborated with rather than for their sound, which on Summer Megalith ranged from eerie slowcore (“Evil”) to DC post-hardcore (“Another Night”) to fuzzy indie pop (“Revelatory”). On New Preoccupations, while they’re still comfortable darting between sounds, they seem to have found a niche in colorful, swelling indie rock. 

The Better EP that followed Summer Megalith, and the standalone “Dark Bells” single that followed that, signaled a step in this direction already, borrowing more from The National or The Antlers than from American Football or Sunny Day Real Estate, and the opening two tracks on New Preoccupations pick up well from where Better left off. Some of Caracara’s most beloved songs (“Apotheosis,” “Better,” and, no doubt, soon “Monoculture”) begin as delicate ballads before flowering into grandiose bridges, and “My Thousand Eyes” and lead single “Hyacinth” stretch out that formula over two songs. When feedback swallows up Lindsay’s voice in the final seconds of the airy acoustic “My Thousand Eyes,” it flows directly into the breakneck “Hyacinth” in a way that recalls the thundering transition that took Better’s title track to soaring new heights. While “Hyacinth” was appealing enough as a single, it’s clear the song was meant to be heard coupled together with “My Thousand Eyes” as the moment when New Preoccupations really takes off. 

If “My Thousand Eyes” and “Hyacinth” show off the band in their natural habitat, “Colorglut” is Caracara tapping into something new. It’s bouncy and electronic, built on a jittery dance beat; while Caracara might never have had a defined sound before, “Colorglut” is the first song they’ve released that absolutely breaks the mold. The grime-inspired drum machine that opens the song immediately distinguishes it from the rest of their discography, and Lindsay’s half-spoken, half-shouted melody gives the song a unique feeling. Anthony Green makes an appearance in the song’s bridge, his singular vocals further cementing “Colorglut” as a turning point on the LP; it leads into the dark “Nocturnalia,” perhaps the most synth-led song in the band’s catalog thus far – it’s immediately made clear that “Colorglut” isn’t a one-off for Caracara. The electronic flourishes, the ones that color “Nocturnalia” or give “Useful Machine” its pop flair, help flesh out the world of New Preoccupations and give it a distinct life not just in the context of Caracara’s career but also in the context of the broader scene that spawned them.

There are other songs on New Preoccupations that do exist closer to the realm of the band’s more emo-leaning material, though. The driving single “Strange Interactions in the Night” is clearly indebted to Death Cab, cousin to earlier Caracara singles like “Revelatory” and “New Chemical Hades,” and fans of dense, winding Summer Megalith cuts like “Evil” and “Prenzlauerberg” will appreciate the labyrinthine six-minute centerpiece “Ohio.” But the aggression of “Hyacinth” is only ever matched by the closing “Monoculture,” a song essentially consisting of a four-minute-long buildup. It’s the one that draws most deeply from that quiet-loud well that so marks emo music, and that Caracara so effectively deployed on previous releases, and it’s the heaviest song they’ve ever released, all the anger and self-loathing and desperation of the previous 35 minutes spilling over at once. The band slathers triumphant riffs atop one another as they climb closer and closer to the sun, and then eventually the wings melt apart and Lindsay delivers the record’s final line, the one the whole thing is clearly building to: “I’m finally free to let go.” He repeats it six times, his voice getting more and more ragged each time until he’s screaming himself hoarse and the everything collapses into dust. It’s an album closer if ever there was one, a sigh of frustration and relief at once; it is classic Caracara.

For a band who clearly appreciates a cathartic crescendo, some of the most powerful moments on New Preoccupations are its subtlest.  The 90-second “Peeling Open My Eyelids” is one such example. It’s a reprise of “Nocturnalia,” this time dressed up in soft strings and a barely-audible electronic drumbeat, more an echo or a ghost of that song than its own entity. It’s brief and it’s understated, but coupling Lindsay’s impressionistic lyrics with the orchestral haze makes for a beautiful combination. Then “Harsh Light,” the unassuming penultimate track, sandwiched between the dark electropop of “Useful Machine” and the climactic release of “Monoculture,” might well be the best song on the whole album. As on “Peeling Open My Eyelids,” electronic percussion melds with a simple piano line and the juxtaposition is gorgeous. Lindsay’s voice never rises above a calm croon, and the song’s hook comes in the form of buzzsaw riff that elevates the song to an entirely new level. It’s an excellent study in contrast, the UKG beats against the piano against the whirr of synths against the strings that dip into the song’s final seconds; it’s a track where the release comes not from a throat-shredding scream or a gut-punch one-liner but from a well-timed riff – it’s impressive restraint for a band like Caracara. They’ve learned that sometimes just a piano line or an unexpected beat can carry as much emotion as the most heartfelt screams. It’s this willingness to adapt, to never stick to any one formula, and to constantly challenge themselves that sets Caracara apart from so many of their peers, and New Preoccupations doesn’t just speak to the four-piece’s ambition; it speaks to their ability as musicians.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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