Caveman, ‘Caveman’ – Album Review
A lot of the dialogue regarding indie rock these days concerns a perceived lack of inspiration. According to poptimist arguments, indie rockers are boring, uncreative and overly influenced by past sounds. While these critics are wrong in some ways, they're quite right in others, and the New York City band Caveman represent a very typical phenomenon: A sub-genre takes off and spawns numerous acts that try to follow the same established formula, each becoming less and less interesting, regardless of their songwriting ability.
In a vacuum, and in a songwriting sense, Caveman's self-tiled sophomore album is not bad. But it does owe a debt to Fleet Foxes. Ever since that band brought pastoral, harmony-driven folk-rock to large audiences, their influence has proved widespread, spawning some inspired followers, like Local Natives, and some other moderate successes, like Other Lives and Lord Huron. Caveman actually sound a lot like Other Lives on this album, and probably like a host of other bands, too.
On "In the City," which features the most adventurous arrangement on this album, Caveman singer Matthew Iwanusa sounds just like Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold. Luckily, the quintet weaves together inviting melodies and driving percussion to create a product that adds up to, well, exactly what it should: something new.
Elsewhere, unfortunately, Caveman doesn't manage to showcase its many attributes. 'Chances' seems like it should be the prototypical Caveman song, with vocals that are instantly familiar and an increasing sense of disorder and chaos, but the repetition of it all can't keep the listener focusing on the positive. 'Pricey' is all about details, subtle inflections over spare transitions, but none of the details feel inspired or immediate. By the time the album nears its finish, 'Never Want To Know' and 'The Big Push' are hard to differentiate from anything else on 'Caveman,' leaving the listener to wonder if the band did, in fact, include the same songs repeatedly.
With Fleet Foxes possibly gone for good, Caveman could easily serve as a substitute for anyone that needs that sound in their lives. But even this comparison overstates the effectiveness of 'Caveman.' Its greatest flaw is that it lacks the heart to draw more than a passing admiration, like a painting that looks pretty on a wall but doesn't beg to be shared, or discussed, or treasured. By keeping listeners at arms length, Caveman may showcase their mastery of craft, but they won't build an audience. And in the medium they're trying work, with the tools (including custom-made guitars, impressively enough) they have at their disposal, pretty and uninspiring is not good enough.