Remember back in 2004? We were beginning to recover from the sheer shock of indie’s regeneration after a decade dominated by grunge, nu-metal and pop-punk; Bright Eyes, Death Cab, and a whole host of other bands featured on the O.C.’s soundtracks, were dominant. Seattle quartet Cave Singers’ brand of warm, somewhat earnest indie-folk harks back to that West Coast golden age, and the tradition of sun-drenched, mellow guitar-centric indie.
In fact, the past clients of Naomi’s producer give a fairly solid run-down of the band’s influences; the Shins, Fleet Foxes, and Modest Mouse amongst others. The band members themselves are mostly veterans of other similar acts, with former Pretty Girls Make Graves members and a Fleet Fox in their midst. Rather more folky than any of James Mercer’s output and far less frantic than the majority of Modest Mouse records, but yet less harmonic than Fleet Foxes and their ilk; there’s something in the tone of the guitars, the warmth of the bass, and Pete Quirk’s vocals, that is inescapably part of the wider West Coast indie heritage.
Inevitably, much of the album sounds very similar. The instruments’ tone remains unchanged, and there’s a consistent “up-down strum, up down-strum, chord change!” pattern to the guitars, alternated only with careful, chilled fingerpicked lead lines. It’s a bit like listening to an early Death Cab record, but with Layne Staley singing vocals on an exceptionally mellow, blissed-out day. Unlike the carefully enunciated lyrics of James Mercer or Ben Gibbard though, the lyrics take rather a backseat, simply washing over the listener– even though the band (or at least, the press release) put a lot of stock in the album’s lyrical themes. Perhaps on paper they’re pertinent, but in practice they are too subdued to stand out. Of the similar sounding cuts, single ‘Shine’ is the best, with a pleasing lolloping, looping hook, some nice harmonica playing and Quirk’s voice sounding richer than anywhere else on Naomi.
That said, the second half of the album is noticeably better than the first, with more memorable, individually discernible songs, and a wider variation in style. With ‘Easy Way’, at last things are shaken up a little, with rockier percussion, slightly more crunch in the rhythm guitar and more of a snarl in the vocals. In the past, the band has said that they never intended to play folk – perhaps this is the direction they should pursue in future. However, ‘Northern Lights’ – easily the folkiest track on the record, with hints of Dylan and straight-up campfire sound to it – is another success. Finally, closer ‘When The World’ brings tambourines, fuzzy bass and angst as Quirk moans “You’re like a leaf that blows away”. It’s got more momentum than the whole first half of Naomi; a bluesy, folk jam where the Cave Singers finally achieve what they’ve been hinting at for the past eleven tracks.
Arguably much of Naomi’s problems are caused by the tracklisting, as there are many early tracks which fuse into each other, which, had they been alternated with some of the later, more distinctive songs, would have probably shone in their own right. Ultimately though, they don’t commit enough to the sonic range which they eventually bring to bear, focusing too much on middle-of-the-road indie-folk.