Caroline – Caroline

Caroline_coverNeil Diamond fans look away. It’s time to applaud a very different Caroline.

Once a crappy guitar band above a pub, now a sprawling octet to keep an eye on according to the experts. It took some time and practice but in five years the London chamber music ensemble Caroline slowly grew to today’s compelling incarnation. Because of the slow build Caroline wasn’t very eager to show themselves to the world. 

Less than two years ago they brought out their first single Dark Blue which was followed by more work a year later. This eventually led to this self-titled album that was produced by John ‘Spud‘ Murphy who also worked with black midi. And as we know by now, where there is Spud, there is a genre-spanning experience awaiting. So let’s leap into Caroline’s post punk-indie-folk commentary on modern existence and all other things that make one’s eyebrows rise.  

The debut single Dark Blue also happens to be the album’s opener. In six-and-a-half minutes the eight-piece introduces themselves once more in a well thought out song that offers a hypnotic building fiddle section that falls silent as the soft chants of “I want it all” enter. The chants are however short-lived and instead towards building to a grand ending, minimalistic instrumentation brings the track to a close. Dark Blue therefore seems merely a teaser of what Caroline is capable of. Especially on the first half of the album the octet keeps steering around the obvious soft-to-loud pitfall. Although close listeners will hear some very small elements of a fuller sound. Good morning (red) nevertheless follows the same contained slowcore pattern of Dark Blue. Quiet guitar strumming and sweet strings are slowly pushed forward by a simple drumbeat. If it wasn’t for vocalist Casper Hughes’ shouting in the background: “Can I be happy in this world? We’ll have to change it, it doesn’t suit us” this would be an unnoted addition to the album. Instead this subtle productional twist brings forth a lingering tension and authentic vulnerability. On IWR first signs of the band’s fuller capabilities come into play. IWR is based on the choral singing of the sentence “Somehow I was right, all night long” and swelling folk music. As the song intensifies the composition becomes also more and more eerie, foreshadowing an oppressive conclusion of this debut.

After the short lo-fi intermezzo of messen #7 the second part of the album is shaped up by the pastoral beginnings of Engine (eavesdropping). Halfway through the octet changes toward an unexpected expermentail direction in which messy drumming, tense strings and wrought-up guitar all try to take the foreground at the same time. May we say that Fleet Foxes meets the newly formed Aussie colab Springtime here? You best decide for yourself of course, we however couldn’t unhear the connection anymore. In about three quarters of Skydiving onto the library roof vocals, cello, horns and other minor sounds get all the space they need to flourish until an intense burst of improv brings them all together near the ending. The nine-minute closer Natural Death is the most improvisational track of the album. Here the band seems to turn the concept minimalism to maximalism by filling up space with an abundance of small sounds.

Caroline’s debut can only be enjoyed if you have patience for it. At a glance you would say that you’re dealing with a contemporary folk octet, yet as the album progresses more and more improv elements are put to the foreground. As an experimental folk exploration this record is quite fascinating and thus we have to conclude Caroline is a band to keep an eye on. Only be warned that you have to be up for a challenge because with this kind of versatility under their belts you never know where they will end up next.

Label: Rough Trade, 2022

Buy it here: https://www.roughtrade.com/us/caroline/caroline 

Tracklist: 

  1. Dark Blue (6:36) 
  2. Good Morning (red) (5:47) 
  3. Desperately (1:13)
  4. IWR (6:29)
  5. messen #7 (1:39)
  6. Engine (eavesdropping) (5:41)
  7. Hurtle (0:50)
  8. Skydiving Onto the Library Roof (7:41) 
  9. Zilch (2:08)
  10. Natural Death (8:40)

Line-up:
Jasper Llewellyn – cello, vocals, drums
Mike O’Malley – guitar
Casper Hughes – vocals
Oliver Hamilton – violin
Magdalena McLean – violin
Freddy Wordsworth – trumpet, bass
Alex McKenzie – clarinet, saxophone
Hugh Aynsley – percussion

Review by Wander Meulemans // 200322

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