There’s something to be said about going it alone. Most bands wallow in genuine independence, going unsigned either because they’ve yet to be discovered or are simply not good enough to become courted by record labels. As much as people claim that the record industry is dead in the water and that the current model of music distribution is broken, the fact remains that at least 90% of music coverage is devoted to “signed” artists. They have people paid to do PR for the artists they represent, so emails get sent out, phone calls are made, CDs are mailed, and the writers create the coverage in response. Most artists don’t have the time or funds to do all that hustling themselves. What’s rare are the artists that earn a significant amount of buzz via their own homegrown independent efforts, and then say no to labels when they come calling. Such is the case with Brooklyn’s own Caveman. They’ve only been around for a couple years, but have steadily built a fan base courtesy of playing everywhere around New York with high profile indie bands such as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Here We Go Magic and Cursive. Their dynamic live show matched with a powerful set of songs has drawn the attention of many high profile publication as well as a few record labels, but the band is devoted to their fans first and foremost. After eyeing a number of potential deals, the chose to go the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah route and stay independent. They formed their own record label, called Magic Man!, and first unleashed their debut album “CoCo Beware” digitally in September with the physical release arriving in stores this week. They’re playing a big role as one of the breakout bands of 2011, and if you’re not already in the know, now’s the time to start shifting your attention in Caveman’s direction.
Caveman’s sound is at once easy to recognize yet difficult to describe. That may be because they tend to come across like a hybrid of a few different bands. If you go simply from “CoCo Beware”‘s opening track “A Country’s King of Dreams”, the tribal drums and vocal harmonies will probably bring to mind Animal Collective. They’re a little too clean and pop-perfect to fully sell such a comparison though, which should be a comfort to those that find Animal Collective too obtuse. Others may argue the band oversimplifies things. There’s nothing wrong with casting your net for a wider audience provided you don’t dumb it down, which Caveman does not. There’s a great sense of front-loading on this album with the smooth synth-infused chug of “Decide” and the Real Estate-meets-The Dodos vibe on “My Time” both bearing the marks of catchy singles, but the stylistic twists the band undergoes over the course of 10 tracks keep you engaged even when things slow down. There’s a common thread of James Mercer musical projects via “Old Friend”, which sounds like a Shins song filtered through the more psychedelic and synthetic lenses of Broken Bells. The result feels a little more exhilarating than it has any right to be. The spacey guitars and intensely harmonized backing vocals feel like they were ripped straight from Grizzly Bear’s playbook on both “Great Life” and “December 28th”, though you definitely get the sense those guys would have done a little more with each of those songs. The final three tracks on the record play up the psychedelic side of the band a little more, which is why “Easy Water” has a MGMT-like thing going for it, “Thankful” touches on some Talking Heads and closing track “My Room” could be placed on a mixtape next to virtually anything from Here We Go Magic.
With all this name dropping going on, where’s Caveman in all this? Just because they can do a great job sounding like a number of different bands doesn’t mean they should be regarded with the same love and respect. What stands out the most in spite of all the similarities is that the songs on “CoCo Beware” are pretty damn good. These guys know how to write a hook, and sometimes that’s all you need. Plenty of bands try to imitate their heroes or imitate a certain sound that’s “hot” at the moment, in the hopes of gaining success from it. You don’t need talent to slap together a bunch of songs that sound like The Beatles. You need talent to make people believe they’re listening to The Beatles when they’re not. Play a Caveman track for a friend unfamiliar with the band, but who has a reasonable grasp on musical knowledge. It could be virtually any song on the album, save for maybe the instrumental “Vampirer”, which moody and cool as it is, stands out simply because it is an instrumental. Ask that friend what band he or she thinks is playing. An answer should come relatively quickly, though it will be the wrong one. For fun you can also see how long you can continue to lie to them and claim it’s the other band they named. The grand point is that on their debut album, Caveman are still actively seeking an identity. They’ve got bits and pieces of one, and have wrenched a number of very good songs out of it, but that air of distinction isn’t fully developed at this point. Most assuredly it will come with time and as their fan base continues to grow. Most likely the fans will dictate the direction they move in from here. At this very moment though, Caveman are a promising young band with plenty of life ahead of them. Even more if their live shows continue to earn raves from friend and foe alike.
MP3: Caveman – Old Friend