Rating:At what point does a band’s dependability become a liability? That question looms over Seattle band the Cave Singers’ new album (and second for Jagjaguwar) Naomi. With four albums since 2007 and a relentless touring schedule to show off their live chops, the core group of singer Pete Quirk, guitarist Derek Fudesco and drummer Marty Lund has certainly nothing to prove about their work ethic. With Naomi, they’ve added multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson of Fleet Foxes and Blood Brothers and according to Quirk, began “writing different songs.” While Henderson’s presence can certainly be felt in a number of small flourishes, the album sounds no different in essence from their previous work. But is that to their benefit? Or to their fans?
Since their 2007 debut Invitation Songs, the Cave Singers have kept to a single winning formula: a rhythmic version on Northwest Americana anchored by Fudesco’s guitar hooks and Quirk’s froggy rasp. There’s any number of variations that can be essayed from that, but truth be told, many of their songs sound roughly similar because of this. Fudesco’s fondness for simple, hypnotic guitar hooks add to that, and Quirk’s limited vocal range round it out. Now, this isn’t damning evidence towards the band; it’s simply noting that they have a distinct style and rarely venture beyond it, for better or worse. That’s in full effect on Naomi, with its 12 tracks sounding as they could fit in on any of their previous releases.
Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. The Cave Singers have been putting out distinctive music for years now, and are a hard working band. But Naomi is almost worrying in that it doesn’t show any forward musical momentum for the band, even with Henderson. While small touches like the flute in “Easy Way” or the country inflections of opener “Canopy” are welcome, too many tracks feel like a retread. The relatively rocking “It’s a Crime” doesn’t have anything on “Dancing on Our Graves,” in either energy or Quirk’s growl. This isn’t to say there aren’t high points. The peaceful “Evergreens” and “Northern Lights” are both pastoral, contemplative tracks, immersed in a sense of domestic calm that’s the most consistent theme of the album.
And while the band doesn’t show any real indication of musical growth, the one aspect of Naomi that shows some branching out is its semi-unified theme. “Karen’s Car” and “Week to Week” both show indications of more interests beyond the abstractly romantic or weird that have dominated Quirk’s lyrics in the past. It may be that the band members are aging, or life as professional touring musicians lends a certain shine to the idea of domestic bliss and the attraction of day to day life. It’s definitely a lyrical growth and hopefully a sign that the band may grow more ambitious soon. Pleasant and consistent as Naomi is, it’s not that.