Album Review: Caroline – ‘Caroline’
Posted: by The Editor
It seems almost inevitable that Caroline’s eponymous debut will be compared to fellow UK post-rockers Black Country, New Road. Indeed, both bands pull from a variety of styles and employ the same en vogue sing-speak vocal inflections; where Black Country, New Road settles into an almost jazzy post-punk groove on songs like “Sunglasses,” Caroline mostly plays their post-rock straight. They’re not much different, really, from a band like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, only that Caroline’s got vocals, which in keeping with the genre are treated more like another texture than the focal point of the music.
The nearly-seven minute opener “Dark Blue,” for example, almost acts more as an introductory prelude than a song in itself – although it is of course a masterfully crafted track. It builds from a repetitive, fiddle-dotted crescendo until the vocals come in, almost as a chant of “I want it all,” over minimalistic plucks of a guitar; the band never quite regains that same energy again throughout the rest of the song, instead allowing each instrument a brief moment to let loose before pulling things back.
When the following “Good morning (red)” employs a similar template at a slowcore pace, Caroline‘s general game becomes clear. In pre-release press materials, the band explains that “Sometimes things sound much better when there’s empty space.” Indeed, Caroline makes ample use of this rule, songs circle back on themselves and repeat elements over and over, making only subtle changes each time. It’s a strategy that rewards patience, one indeed far more rooted in the trancelike patterns of post-rock or slowcore than post-punk or indie rock writ large; it means that, perhaps, for some listeners, Caroline will be a bit of a challenge, an album that tells too little and shows too much. Though those Black Country, New Road comparisons will be frequent, in truth Caroline is closer to a band like Balmorhea or Rachel’s, both in sound and in approach. The ambient “Engine (eavesdropping)” is a prime example, a song that takes about two full minutes to blossom from extremely quiet, sputtering percussion to a full-fledged composition of drones before horns and a bluesy guitar find their way into the mix; the song is cacophonous and messy, each member fighting to drown out their others at their own pace, giving the track an improvisational feeling.
Much of Caroline shares the feeling, particularly the pseudo-interludes that break up almost every other track on the record. The band discussed their Appalachian folk influences quite a bit in pre-release materials, and songs like the lo-fi “messen #7” and “zilch” is where these shine through the most. Consisting of little more than carelessly strummed guitars and the ambient noises of whatever room they were recorded in, they lend the record – otherwise sprawling and nearly dizzying in scope – a sense of intimacy.
But to push through that calculated awkwardness, songs like “IWR,” the track that accompanied the album’s announcement, have an almost indescribable catchiness to them. The song consists of almost exclusively one line of lyrics: “Somehow I was right / all night long,” repeated over and over as the music below shifts almost tectonically, from a near-folk-like dirge to a gorgeous burst of contemporary classical. The nearly nine-minute ender, “Natural death,” is the apex of it all, a track that reimagines the latter half of Illusory Walls as disintegrating indie folk. It’s the one that puts the whole rest of Caroline into perspective, that reaffirms that every previous track was a stepping stone to a particular endpoint.
It is also, perhaps not coincidentally, the most traditionally structured, rising from an ambient, vocal-led first verse to an impassioned bridge in which spurts of tremoloed strings dart in and out over bashes of cymbals and jabs of piano before a jarring guitar coda plays the record out. It’s a thoroughly impressive song, one that plays out the whole arc of Caroline in miniature, the one most immediately captivating. That’s not to say it might not take a few listens to hit, but once it hits, it really hits. It’s a reminder that there’s nothing at all wrong with allowing a little more room to breathe, a little more time to sink in. Caroline‘s a record that rewards patience, and what a reward it is.
Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal
Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison
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