Album review: 'Naomi,' The Cave Singers

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

In its fourth album, “Naomi,” the Seattle-based band The Cave Singers transition from the grayer indie-folk style of their earlier albums to a more campfire-esque buoyancy.

For this record, the band added Morgan Henderson (of Past Lives and Fleet Foxes) on bass, and brought on producer Phil Ek, who has worked with the likes of Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse, and The Shins. This shake-up in personnel combined with the album’s cover art, which depicts dark clouds giving way to a sunny sky, drive home the idea that The Cave Singers is heading in a new direction.

The mystic, rainy sound — so characteristic of Pacific Northwest indie rock and the band’s first three albums — disappears immediately with its opening song, “Canopy.” The snappy, high-pitched vocal style in the first three tracks is similar to Vampire Weekend singer Ezra Koenig’s style. The first three tracks aesthetically fuse together as a pleasing opening trilogy, but the album’s later transitions aren’t as smooth.

Mid-album style varies from track to track ranging from thrashy guitar rifts (“It’s a Crime”) to slower, warmer reflections (“Evergreens” and “Northern Lights”) to happy and poppy (“Shine” and “Easy Way”), resulting in some clunky transitions. The album has many differing styles, all executed well, but lacks fluidity. 

Lyrically, “Naomi” explores themes similar to the band’s earlier work — addiction, love, and God, to name a few — but promotes a different attitude. There is less grim suffering, and a more redemptive quality to most of the tracks. This is a bright and refreshing change from the band’s gloomy third album, “No Witch.” The change in tone makes sense: “No Witch” was written during winter, while “Naomi” was written in spring and recorded in summer.

The optimism generally works well, but comes up short several times. “Karen’s Car,” a bouncy ode to the song’s title, is a mundane, low point of the album. The album’s closing number, “When the World,” is also upbeat and energizing, but its chorus is shallow and cliché: “When the world seems so cold, reach out your hand, I’ll be your man, I’ll never let you go,” sings frontman Pete Quirk, channeling the spirit of every single country and folk singer in recent memory.

As a whole, the album is conspicuously sunnier than the band’s past releases. The two closing songs in particular are perfect companions for a road trip down the West Coast on Highway 101, shades donned, feet hanging out the window. While this drastic stylistic shift could attract newer listeners, it runs the risk of alienating longtime fans expecting business as usual.

As for the titular character, “Naomi,” Quirk calls her a fictional muse that personifies different themes of the album. The actual name, he just liked the way it sounds. “That’s a good name for a boat, or the girl who’s a waitress at the diner who you’ll never see again, or God,” he said in an interview with Stereogum.

Basically, she is whatever you want her to be, which nicely parallels the album’s intrinsic messages of redemption and finding peace.

The verdict: “Naomi” diverges in style from earlier albums, but is animated and refreshing.

Reach reporter Lauren Smith at arts@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @smithlm12

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