I have a very good excuse on why my review of the debut album from Brighton’s Cave Painting is so late The album was released in September 2012 but I didn’t get my promo copy until the week before I was due to leave for Australia. So in a rush, I popped the CD in my car so I could listen to it on the way downtown to see Husky gig at Red Palace. I was rewarded with one of the chilliest and possibly one of the best albums of 2012 you’ve never heard. I am so pleased that they will be bringing their dreamy, yet evocative pop to South by Southwest next month, where I am positive they will make a big impression.
I mention Australia because when I was down under, I had some conversations with our friends at the AU Review about what I consider a rhythmic pop sound that seems to be inherently Australian (think Men at Work at the height of their fame in the ‘80s). However, listening to ‘Votive Life’, it was clear this sound I was trying to link to Oz wasn’t Oz’s exclusively. Listen to Cave Painting’s ‘Gator’ (watch the video below), with carefree vocals, bouncy marimba and animal calls, and you will see what I mean. I dare you not to shout “get up!” with the band, it’s so infectious. Is it a song about carpe diem, grabbing onto life by the horns, riding the wave? Or is it a song about getting intimate, feeling that desire when you’re having sex? To be honest, I don’t really care when it’s as poppy as this. A little slower but with a similar vibe is ‘So Calm’. This song is so relaxing with its dreamy lyrics and as a mesmerising bass line, I’ve chosen it to sync as my daily morning alarm, so ‘So Calm’, not an annoying clock beeping, is there to ease me into the start of the day. Try it. You’ll think you’re waking up in a tropical paradise, not an unwelcome rush to get to the office. You can get it for free from this previous MP3 of the Day post.
But there are two songs that for me epitomise ‘Votive Life. The first is opening track ‘Leaf’. Lush guitar feedback usher the song in, and there’s a sexy as hell bass line throughout. But there’s an underlying solemnness delivered by the lyrics: “You are not alone in all that you’re going through / with this distance now, this broken ground” and the repeated refrain of “where the young go”. It’s a song about regret, a song about wanting to go back to a more innocent. Not usually themes in lounge-y, chill albums, are they? But this is an album of surprises.
The other is ‘Rio’ which appears later in the album. I’m not entirely sure what it’s about, but this is how I read it: the start is similar to Friendly Fires’ ‘Paris’ in which the protagonist is asking his girl to go far away to this magical place of Rio, as a place to escape. But upon being rebuffed, either for this invitation or in general as a suitor, he muses that it’s hard, and “find[s] it hard to let go / when we’ve been going so long / now I’m lying alone, feeling like I’m hollow”. It’s a heart-wrenchingly, achingly gorgeous study of a broken heart. To say that I’ve lost a few tears while listening to this song would be a gross understatement.
From ‘So Calm’ on, just wrap your ears around this album and float downstream in an imaginary boat, miles from anywhere. ‘Only Us’ and ‘Pair Up’ are beauteously laid back odes to love. While more in your face percussive, maybe in a way if Django Django might be if they weren’t so manic and trippy, ‘Handle’ and ‘Simoleon’ still maintains an air of cool. The tribal drumming of ‘Forming’ isn’t heavy handed, it’s freeing, along with the soaring vocals; ‘Nickel’ is set apart by a crescendo of horns in ‘Nickel’ with a melodic guitar line.
And then there is a matter of the interludes. Generally, I’m not a fan of albums that these short instrumental bits bridging one song to another, or one part of an album to another. So few artists seem to be able to sort this out correctly, causing listeners to press the skip button when they encounter these interludes. Proper interludes should be enjoyed and relished, but that’s dependent on these musical segues being placed in the right place, and that they’re properly developed. One of my favourite albums of all time, Stephen Duffy’s 1993 album ‘Music in Colors’, is a shining example of the latter, bridging the unusual addition of esteemed violinist Nigel Kennedy’s contributions to Duffy’s pop with brief yet highly whimsical instrumentals. After ‘Only Us’, an instrumental version of ‘Gator’ makes a welcome ‘re-appearance’, and then following on from the emotionally raw ‘Rio’ is ‘Me You Soon’, which reaches heavenly heights. Which, aptly, is a good description of ‘Votive Life’ as a whole.
‘Votive Life’, the debut album from Cave Painting, is out now on Third Rock Recordings. Catch the band showcasing in Austin for SXSW 2013 in March. (We previewed them in the pop UK acts chapter of the TGTF Guide to SXSW 2013.)
Listening companion: Stephen Duffy featuring Nigel Kennedy – ‘Music in Colors’