The Cave Singers - Biography
It’s all in a name: there’s definitely something primitive about The Cave Singers. Perhaps it’s the stripped back arrangements, the muscular, rudimentary drumming, the gothic, gospel themes of sin, redemption and hellfire, or the unrepentant nods to early American roots music. Or maybe it’s more to do with an intrinsic element in their sound -- truly retro, with a hissing undercurrent that evokes the crackle of old 78 rpm LPs. But there’s also a droney element, along with distinctive, gravelly vocals, that adds just the right amount of weirdness to make the Seattle-based trio sound genuinely modern at the same time. All three members hail from previous (and more raucous) projects. Vocalist Pete Quirk came from Hint Hint, Marty Lund from Cobra High and most famously, bassist Derek Fudesco, founded The Cave Singers after the dissolution of successful Seattle indie rockers Pretty Girls Make Graves. It was an artistic departure for all of them --hanging up their post punk, indie spurs for a folkier, more acoustic approach, which at first glance may not seem to be the most stunningly original choice. But the effect is surprisingly arresting, and The Cave Singers have managed to carve out a truly inspired niche for themselves.
You’ve got to have a pretty solid identity to catch the attention of exclusive, taste-making label, Matador Records, who picked up the band in 2007 on the back of Pretty Girls Make Graves. That autumn they released their first LP, Invitation Songs (2007 Matador), a moody collection of arcadian songs that trips along like river water. The moods do vary, however, and the opening track, “Seeds of Light,” (also released as a single) is an evocative sun-splashed ditty as opposed to “New Moments,” a dark and ponderous waltz. The second single from the record, “Dancing on Our Graves,” an intense, relentless evocation of crazed, ecstatic religious fervor, was released with an accompanying video. Check it out on YouTube: scratchy black and white footage of baptisms and fevered exorcisms all cleverly synched up to the lyrics. Invitation Songs was produced in Vancouver by Colin Stewart, producer of Black Mountain. The second Cave Singers record (also produced by Stewart) Welcome Joy (2009 Matador) is a tad breezier than the debut. The cyclical, acoustic guitar riffs are truly inspired, and they create a mesmerizing effect, especially on the sparse, bongo-driven meditative ramble, “Shrine,” and the more uplifting, organic “VV.” The band’s punk roots show through at times in some edgier moments, like the angular “At the Cut,” but even here, the retro, folk/gospel undertones are still present.
The album hangs together beautifully, making for a satisfying excursion into the contemporary but decidedly pastoral world of The Cave singers. The unlikely elements of their post-punk past collide seamlessly with their new, traditional acoustic idiom, and they manage to achieve an intriguing balance of an indie sensibility steeped in authentic Americana. Quirk’s vocal is central to the band’s identity; part classic rocker (Fleetwood Mac comparisons abound), part troubadour and part street preacher, he lends a raspy quirkiness that sits oddly (yet perfectly) in the overall stew of hypnotic, rolling guitar riffs and trad aesthetic. It’s reminiscent, but it’s also new, almost otherworldly, like an old Woody Guthrie record on a loop, with a chorus of cicadas droning over it — all heard through filtered, late afternoon sun.