The Cave Singers will always be associated with the Northwest. And with roots music. Even though they don’t necessarily connect with either one. Doesn’t matter.
They’ve got beards, they sing over rootsy beats and finger-picked guitars. They make crooning cool again. Their albums have a bunch of pine trees on the cover and they just sound like they live in a moss-covered cave in the Olympic Peninsula’s rainforest. Or at least, that’s how they used to be.
Their new album, No Witch, doesn’t hew to these same clichés as their previous two albums, and I think that’s a good thing. Some people are calling this their “rock” record and that’s kind of right. It’s not like Iron & Wine’s change to indie rock (I still want to claw my eyeballs out whenever I hear that stupid opera singer on the first track of his EP w/Calexico), since they’ve kept their core sound strong. Lead singer Pete Quirk’s rambly voice (half the time I think he’s singing in French) holds true across each album, the stripped-down trap set of drummer Marty Lund still features a lot of kickin’ tambourine lines, and guitarist Derek Fudesco’s fingerpicking is still the true beating heart of The Cave Singers’ sound. But on No Witch, The Cave Singers clearly aren’t afraid to branch out in new directions, or to wrap their signature sound in new layers of production. And it works to their benefit.
Overall, this album is a grab-bag of different ideas, as if The Cave Singers were trying on different sunglasses at a gas station and mugging for the mirror to see how they looked. The first track on the album, “Gifts and the Raft” suckers you into thinking this is an old-school folk album. Fiddling strings back up gentle guitar finger-picking and rich vocal harmonies. It’s a lusher vision of their earlier sound. They follow this track up with the equally bouncy “Swim Club” and we’re all set for a great folkie road trip album, especially with lyrics like “Put your cookies on the cooling rack, let’s kiss the sky away, hey”. So it comes as a rough surprise when the Cave Singers smash into the third track, “Black Leaf” with fuzzed out, burning guitars, thudding drums and snarled vocals. It’s like a campfire singalong broken up by Jason from Friday the 13th. Seattle journalist Eric Grandy said "Black Leaf" and the next track, “Falls,” which has brutal, rumbling bass and brass lines beneath the vocals, “lend the album an early center of gravity.” These two tracks do seem like the core of The Cave Singers’ new sound. But they’re certainly not afraid to break out from this. They even go so far as to bring on a spaced-out hippie jam, complete with fuzzy sitar sounds, in the form of “Outer Realms,” and a gospel-shout singalong with “Haystacks.” To cap off the new album, The Cave Singers hit hard with the final track, “No Prosecution if We Bail” sounding like a heavily distorted, indie rock version of R.L. Burnside.
Maybe they’ve finally accepted their roots!
Special Thanks to Eric Grandy for his inspired review of this album for Pitchfork.