The Cave Singers
The Cave Singers’ first album, Invitation Songs, was a solid collection of folk-influenced indie pop songs, although more influenced by the latter than the former than many critics would care to admit. The Seattle-based group’s follow-up, Welcome Joy, shares identical strengths and weakness; in fact, it shares almost a little too much. It’s a good thing the debut was a good record, because this one sounds precisely the same.
Opening with a jaunty acoustic guitar, almost reminiscent of Paul Simon in the ’70s, “Summer Windows” sports a delicate melody under singer Pete Quirk’s raspy, bleating voice. The song takes a while to pick up, like waking up on a quiet morning, but once it does, it’s rousing and propulsive. The Cave Singers’ definitely have a formula to their songwriting; repetitive, chiming guitar and Quirk’s wholly unique tones playing like a rhythm instrument. They rarely stray from this, but it serves its purpose. Some tracks, like “Shrine,” become hypnotic, with the lyrics purposefully vague. Others, like “Jangle” and “Hen Of The Woods” use the same elements for more upbeat purposes, drowning the percussion in reverb, even if the lyrics remain resolutely impressionistic “Death is here to lead you to this old world/ She might be the one you understood/ And well you should.” “Beach House” is a particular standout on Welcome Joy, sounding something like a culmination of their previous efforts; deep and resounding, Quirk sounds as passionate as he ever has, intoning, “I’m just myself/ And no one else/ Hear them talk about me/ I’m just the youngest of three.”
But repetition is both the band’s strength and crucial flaw. It works well individually; guitarist Derek Fudesco’s lines are beautifully sparse and stark, wholly distinct. This, though, informs their song structures and sound to the point that two tracks from Welcome Joy are nearly identical to two of Invitation Songs. Hell, they even have the same track order- “Leap” shares the same driving, lonely rhythm and vocal pattern as the previous album’s “Helen,” while “At The Cut” takes the same violent percussion and yowling as the Invitation’s standout “Dancing on Our Graves.” I suppose it must be a terrible temptation to revisit your best work, but water can only be drawn from the same well so many times. At least maybe use a different bucket.
Welcome Joy is a fine record and will merit many a replay from me. The pattern that The Cave Singers employ has a lot going for it, but it will only hurt them to rely on it entirely. In the end, their sophomore album is not a leap forward, but a strong continuation of where they already were.