Jul 21, 2021
By Carlo Thomas
When Caveman entered the music scene a decade ago with 2011’s Coco Beware, their music blended the chamber-pop of the era’s heavy-hitters with an atmospheric sonic palette to create an album that sounded fresh. Yet by 2016’s Otero War, the band’s inventiveness felt lost. Despite their sci-fi storytelling, the band nonetheless delivered an anthemic indie pop album that sounded similar to everything else found on alternative rock stations on the FM dial.
Smash—Caveman’s first LP in five years, delayed in part due to legal issues—was largely written following the death of singer Matthew Iwanusa’s cousin, whose nickname is the album’s namesake. Yet much of the album falls into the same toothless sonic trap of its predecessor. “Hammer” is a slow synth anthem complete with drum-programmed beats that act like (ugh) handclaps. The climactic “Don’t Call Me” maxes out the band’s use of twinkling synths, percussion, and echoing vocals to create a dense wall of sound: it only works in part because it’s also the album’s closer.
Caveman certainly hints at fresher ideas throughout Smash. Opener “Like Me” begins with a gentle piano melody and Iwanusa’s hushed vocals hovering above. When the synths and guitars kick in, they don’t stick around, giving the song an effective push and pull of sound and space. “You Got a Feeling” is a sweet song that calls back to the band’s quietly sinister Coco Beware. The song embraces gentle guitar strumming and 1980s-era synths that complement Iwanusa’s soft vocal melodies (though it should be noted: the song appeared on last year’s New Sides EP).
These songs only make the homogeneity of the rest of Smash all the more frustrating. “River” rests on an innocuous yet dense synthscape that often overshadows Iwanusa’s vocals. The mid-tempo “Work This Hard” is decorated in echoing percussion and punctuating synths that never evolve over its runtime. Even when Caveman dials down on the energy, there’s an uncanny sense of deja vu: the serene “Awake,” like many of these tracks, could have been placed on Otero War or even their 2013 self-titled album.
Caveman isn’t the first band to face the dilemma of finding themselves trapped inside their own sound. Some manage to dig themselves out, as Local Natives did on their underrated 2019 album Violet Street. Others like The Go! Team are unique enough to deliver consistently enjoyable tunes with few alterations, such as on their latest Get Up Sequences Part One. On Smash, Caveman doesn’t accomplish either, instead releasing an album that is competent but also undeniably dated. (www.cavemantheband.com)
Author rating: 6/10
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