Pre-Screening: The Cave Singers

Album: Welcome Joy
Artist: The Cave Singers
Label: Matador Records
Due Out: August 18th

Even though we're now hearing the second post-Pretty Girls Make Graves album from Derek Fudesco & Co., it's still amazing how dissimilar the two projects are. PGMG's flashy and brash art punk might as well have been made by a different artist entirely (it pretty much was). The Cave Singers embrace aspects of Americana and western folk which few other artists twice their senior have been able to lock down to this level. As strong as The Cave Singers' 2007 debut, Invitation Songs was, it seems they've come back stronger here, with the full intent on improving and fine-tuning their sound. As you can probably tell, the results of these efforts on Welcome Joy are quite positive.

We start with the smooth and subtle "Summer Light." To me, it resembles more of an end of summer song, but maybe that's the point. The track isn't slow, but rather, light. It skips along, still emotional, but without an overcommitment of instrumentation. I've been fascinated with Pete Quirk's ability to sound so solemn, yet energetic at the same time, since the last album, and this one's no different, as he croons a broken, albeit merry refrain. "Leap" then picks up the tempo a bit. More of a folk-country jam, it's complete with rolling percussion and harmonica, and even a tambourine appearance. The double vocals and quickening pace turn it into a bit of a barn burner, but we're all the better for the experience. You'll definitely notice a couple more country influences here than last time, but they act fantastically to enhance the Dylan-esque folk vibe. "At the Cut," the first of the two tracks fans have been graced with in advance, follows, and once again, shifts the mood. Playing to a darker classic rock aesthetic, we get a fair amount of fiddle and bass to push it to the brink. Come the end, it almost reminds you of Modest Mouse's noisier moments.

"Shrine" is the first song to really slow things down. And by slowing things down, I mean drag them to a standstill with the intro, before building up to a more moderate, yet stripped-down pace. The only thing that keeps it from being utterly depressing is the high guitar part in the background, almost bouncing at times, and overall, quite bright. "Hen of the Woods" is quick to change things, however. You're tossed into a fast-paced and busy song within seconds, and for the most part, it keeps up with this established formula. Quirk's voice, mixed with both vocal harmonies and a first-airy, then driven background part, adjust the final minute into a more emotional and determined piece than the initial offering lets on. Next, "Beach House," the second song many fans probably heard already, provides some of the album's best moments. It's not that it's more technical than any of the other tracks, nor is it more emotional. The vocal harmonies, sort-of mainstream guitar riff and seemingly honest lyrical approach can disarm you as a listener, and for the first time, have you sitting back in attention to the smaller details.

"Vv" is your classic western acoustic number. Bubbly, warm and friendly, this may be the welcome joy the album's title speaks of. Quirk sounds as if he's just happy to be out on the open road with whomever he happens to be there with, if anyone. The track is dynamic and evocative, and seems to bring out the best in Quirk's vocal spectrum. "I Don't Mind" seems to carry this leftover energy, as a brighter disposition once again creates the on the road western imagery I alluded to earlier. The song appears to push itself to its comfort level, and once there, functions terrificly as a perfect fit for the latter portion of an album such as this. Not to get you too riled up, "Townships" knocks us down a few notches from a pacing standpoint, but still manages to be engaging. Even relaxed, there's still a lot going on between vocals, auxiliary percussion and a basic, yet necessary guitar part, turning it into somewhat of a folk hymnal. And we end with "Bramble." Laced with the kind of introspection we're all conditioned to hear come the end of albums like this, we are not letdown, nor are we emotionally battered. Obviously, it's one last look at a certain thought process, and instead of viewing it with sadness, Quirk approaches the task as the last hurrah. It's short, but no doubt gets the point across fittingly and effectively.

As I said at the onset, The Cave Singers deliver in a big way with this, their second studio album. Taking a sound already polished and ready to go, the band managed to endorse, and embrace, some natural, positive growth on the way to an admirable follow-up. The sounds were clear and crisp, Quirk's sometimes-haunting vocals struck the perfect balance of emotions and our ears delighting in the western folk experience-- truly a project worthy of at least a listen, if not more, by even the most casual of folk fans. Trust me on this one, you cannot, and will not be disappointed. If you're looking for similarities, check out the aforementioned Bob Dylan, Wilco and Vetiver.

Rating: 8.0/10

Best Track: "Beach House" (courtesy of Stereogum)

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