Yes, plagiarism police – I wrote the Bank Robber blurb too.
(Drag City, 2011)
Can you crowd surf to krautrock? That is the question instrumental four-piece CAVE asks on its new album for Drag City, the relentless Neverendless. Or at least I think they do. As a matter of fact, the thought may never have crossed any of the players’ minds, but that doesn’t render it any less of a relevant question. I mean, think of the innovators: Kraftwerk, Neu!, Can, and other, less-German bands don’t come to mind when you’re thinking about whipping a crowd into a frenzy. (Well, maybe Can does.) So what do you do with a kraut background? Zone out and repeat ad nauseum until your audience is bored to tears, as assuredly some of the lesser acts are wont to do? Or do you do like CAVE does, and ebb, flow, and stretch your compositions effortlessly, periodically injecting a little bit of bombast to shake the monotony of listless jamming? Oh, you do what CAVE does, assuredly.
And that’s what’s great about Neverendless, which clocks in at five songs and forty minutes – while cautious in its pacing, not piling on too much at once, it’s ambitious in its execution as remnants of classic rock and psych records sneak in around the cracks. Take “WUJ,” for example – and I’m not sure if that’s meant as a drunken stutter or an acronym – which immediately melts your face with blistering guitar and keyboard, anchored by clockwork-precise rhythms. These aspects, while not indicative of krautrock per se, work within the motorik pacing and add an element of danger to an otherwise easily defined genre. It even contains some windmill-wild power chord action that would undoubtedly impress Pete Townshend were he ever to deign to acknowledge the existence of Drag City and its ilk.
Or do you need to hitch a ride on an interstellar convoy? Sometimes I do, especially as a comedown after experiencing so much face melting, and so does CAVE, and “This Is the Best” is the best indeed, following “WUJ” with fourteen minutes of blissed-out truckin’. Here’s the great part about CAVE’s interplay: everybody’s so locked in – not only rhythmically, which they clearly have no difficulty with, but also compositionally, as guitars and keyboards move in and out with an amazing subtlety, highlighting the spectacular drumming here, lending definite weight to dynamic transition there, and generally coalescing into an exciting whole. “This Is the Best” is relaxing but also engaging, and keeps you focused despite its length.
Blazing a similar psychedelic path is “On the Rise,” the only song with recognizable vocals (although I thought I heard some wordlessness elsewhere, but it may have been an interestingly mixed guitar). It stretches out like “This Is the Best,” but for less than half the runtime, and the title is repeated mantra-like throughout. It still rocks, and it’s still as locked in as ever, but it’s as close as the band comes to a pop single. Neverendless closes with “OJ,” ten minutes of pinpoint fretwork and stabbing keyboard arpeggios, perhaps inadvertently nodding to Mark Mothersbaugh’s “Ping Island/Lightning Strike Rescue Op” from his OST work on The Life Aquatic. (That was a fun game of Spot the Reference to play, for sure.) The band’s restless energy converges into a satisfying whole here, and collapses in a heap of breathless feedback and patch cords at its end. So does CAVE satisfactorily answer the crowd-surfing question? Yes, resoundingly, absolutely. I’d love to experience them live to find out for myself. You should too.
RIYL: Maserati, I Am Spoonbender, The Psychic Paramount