BANSHEE by The Cave Singers
Genre: Indie Folk
Favorite Tracks: “That’s Why,” “Southern Bell,” “Strip Mine,” “Christmas Night”
The world just doesn’t want bands like the Cave Singers anymore, and they aren’t making much of a case for themselves. There was a time when what the Cave Singers do made sense; when Bon Iver and Mumford and Sons were winning Grammys and seeing success on the Billboard 200, and The Lumineers came from out of nowhere to have one of 2012’s biggest singles. But it’s 2016, and Mumford and Sons have put their banjo in storage, while Justin Vernon is curating music festivals with other hip indie types like The National’s Aaron Dessner. To be fair, the Cave Singers have tried a little bit harder than other similar groups; they attempted to evolve beyond their folk-pop tendencies with 2013’s NAOMI, but that release, which took a stab at a more musically rounded, rock-oriented sound, was largely viewed as a failure. BANSHEE is the group’s first self-release after leaving former label Jagjaguwar, and though it does at times show some promise, it is more often scattered and inconsistent, lacking in clear direction and ambition.
The most distinctive offering in the Cave Singers’ work is Pete Quirk’s voice. His delivery is crackly and unstable but still pleasant, and it is consistently the most interesting sound the Cave Singers provide us with ‒ BANSHEE’s instinct to highlight it is a correct one. Quirk’s lyrics are simple and straightforward, but they don’t do much to separate themselves from those offered by the likes of the aforementioned stomp-clappy artists, nor do they often deliver much more than a platform for Quirk’s singing voice.
Instrumentally, the Cave Singers deserve credit for experimenting with different orchestrations ‒ they have seen a good amount of change throughout their career, going from minimalist street busker instruments on their early releases to a full electric band on their most recent ones. On BANSHEE, the group arrives somewhere in between, and most of the songs offer some combination of finger-picked guitar lines, tom-tom-based drum beats, and a Black Keys-esque blues-rock fuzz in the lead guitars and bass ‒ early on, there’s even a melodica for the open-minded listener. BANSHEE stands out when the music tends more towards electric instrumentation ‒ album opener “That’s Why” is centered around a shuffling bassline more than a little bit reminiscent of a bluesier take on Tame Impala’s “Elephant,” and “Christmas Night” has a driving rhythm and two-chord structure that calls to mind fellow bearded Seattleites Band of Horses. Another highlight, “Strip Mine,” features a sauntering, foot-tapping groove that is maybe the best indicator on the album of what the Cave Singers have to offer as a group at the moment, but still seems to be missing a piece to bring it from okay to good.
Despite the flashes of potential, BANSHEE is unable to provide consistent quality. The band seems trapped between a desire to expand outward sonically and an attempt to keep their songs simple and close to the band’s folk roots, and the result is the record settling firmly into inoffensiveness and mediocrity. There is a solid enough foundation on which to build compelling music here, but it still feels distinctly under construction, and close listening to this record does not yield notable results.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend