The Boston Phoenix
July 22 - 29, 1999

[Music Reviews]

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Beyond hype!

Spreading the news about Cave-In

by Carly Carioli

Cave-In I was having beers with K--, a friend who used to sing for a fairly popular hardcore band. Occasionally we get together and argue about whether punk is an American folk music or whether it's the other way around, or whether we're both just full of shit. He was telling me about an album by the Louvin Bros. -- "Elvis's mother's favorite band," he noted -- that came out in the '50s called Satan Is Real, and how even though the Louvin Bros. were God-fearing guys, the cover looked like a Slayer album. "Don't buy it, though," he said. "I haven't heard it. It might suck. Get the one with `Knoxville Girl' on it instead -- it's an amazing murder ballad, 12 verses, no chorus. Brilliant. Evan Dando covered it on a Lemonheads record, but he fucked it up."

He went on, "So what're you listening to?"

"Well," I answered, a bit warily, "have you heard about this band Cave-In?"

"Yeah," he said. "They're on Hydrahead. Beyond Hypothermia, right? Like a compilation of seven-inches."

"Right. What did you think?"

"Hated it. No songs. It's all riffs, just riff after riff."

"Yeah," I said, "but I really dug it. It just seemed like this perfect postmodern metal record -- it reminded me of a bunch of late-'80s thrash stuff, Slayer, Vio-Lence, even a little Napalm Death, but not too much, and, you know, plus they had the whole extreme-hardcore thing going on. And that first song, `Crossbearer,' had that little morsel tucked in toward the end? Like a chorus, except it happened only once? And it sounded like a totally authentic Fugazi/Monorchid pop-emo hook. You know how I hate to use the word `authentic,' but man, that sounded totally believable."

K-- frowned. I sensed an anti-emo tirade coming on. He wasn't buying it.

"But that's not even why I like them now," I stammered. "They don't even play any of those songs anymore. Last year they put out this album called Until Your Heart Stops -- totally stunning. It's super-heavy, but there's this British psychedelic pop influence, and the guitar player sounds like he's been listening to Spacemen 3 except he hasn't. I've never heard anything like it -- it's mathematical, but in the way da Vinci was mathematical, a kind of corporeal mathematics, science as the beauty that's just barely holding together something bloody and chaotic. Someone said it sounds like Bitch Magnet, but I think that's just 'cause it's like a roller coaster -- you know, 18 parts in the friggin' song and you never know what they're gonna throw at you next. And then they'll do these fluid, ambient-instrumental things that sound like they were done on a four-track with an old beat-up Casio. The crazy thing is they sold 10,000 copies of it to hardcore kids."

K-- said, "Sounds like Brian Eno. They're Eno-core."

"Exactly! It's like a totally different band from the first album -- they're a four-piece now, and only two guys from the original line-up are still around. I talked to them yesterday, 'cause I'm writing this thing on them for the Phoenix in which I proclaim them geniuses."

K-- yawned. "Mmm-hmm," he said, lighting a cigarette and checking the score of the All-Star Game on TV. I was losing him.

"You've got to hear this new EP they just put out, though. It's called Creative Eclipses. They do a completely acoustic Brit-folk song on it. It's like a protest-folk song, like a Robyn Hitchcock tune -- just the singer, Steve, and his guitar, and he has this great British accent. It's called `Burning Down the Billboards,' and it's anti-consumerist but in a droll and clever and funny way, and the accent is perfect and the wit is perfectly dry -- and it's got a hook I can't get out of my head, and great images, like the ashes of the Marlboro man raining down like a ticker-tape parade. If he could grow a beard and borrow a Volvo, they'd worship him over at Club Passim."

I had his attention now. "Really?" he said. "Robyn Hitchcock?"

"Well, I heard they're huge Elliott Smith fans, so maybe it's that. But it gets better. I was all prepared to talk to them about, you know, the metal. Hardcore. And all they wanted to talk about was the friggin' Beatles and the Beach Boys."

"Priceless," he laughed.

"I mean, they're only 20 years old and they've been in bands for, like, five, six years already. They said they just burnt out on hardcore. They said when they get together, all they do is talk about the careers of classic rock bands from the '60s and '70s, like the Beatles and Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, and about how every album used to be its own separate universe, and how there was this sense of a progression, of real drama in the transformation from one album to the next. Adam, the guitar player who doesn't sing, was talking about how much he loves the idea of the Beatles evolving from mop-tops into, like, psychedelic drug wizards, and the thing he said about the music that I thought was brilliant was this: he said, `It's so human, because it grows from one thing into another.' And of course that's part of what makes Cave-In so brilliant, watching them breathe and expand and contract over the last two years from a hardcore band on Beyond Hypothermia into, like, this wigged-out cross between Sgt. Pepper and Neurosis on Until Your Heart Stops, and then into an adventurous experimental rock band on Creative Eclipses. And the singer, Steve, is developing an amazing falsetto like the guy from Radiohead -- oh, they're also huge Radiohead fans -- and they've got this new shimmery prog-pop song called `Innuendo and Out the Other' that's absolutely fabulous, and -- "

"Do you want another beer?" said K--. "I gotta go to the can."

"Yeah, yeah," I said. I turned to the elderly couple at the next table. "Okay, listen to this. I was asking Cave-In about their cover of Black Sabbath's `Nativity in Black' that just came out on a seven-inch, because they do it with this real spectral kind of guitar sound, like an almost My Bloody Valentine thing only a bit more restrained. And Adam, the guitar player who doesn't sing, says he's a huge Pet Sounds fan, so he came up with the idea that they should try as much as possible to apply Beach Boys vocal harmonies to a Black Sabbath song and then do the rest of the song like Pink Floyd."

The couple got up and paid their tab.

"But it doesn't sound anything like the Beach Boys or Pink Floyd!", I shouted after them. "It sounds like something else entirely! Do you think they were pulling my leg?"

The bar was almost empty. K-- must have slipped out the back door. "So I thought maybe `Burning Down the Billboards' was perhaps just a fluke," I said, to nobody in particular. "And then during our interview Steve handed me his first solo album, which just came out on a tiny label called the Magic Bullet Record Company. It's all four-track recordings from the past three years, and it turns out that completely removed from the realm of metal and hardcore he's an undiscovered '60s fey-pop savant!"

I climbed up on the bar. "The album's called Steven Brodsky's Expose Your Overdubs and it starts off with an acoustic cover of the Eugenius song `Pebble,' which has multi-tracked California harmonies that really do sound like the Beach Boys. But then the rest of it's all Steve's songs, and one of 'em sounds like the best Guided by Voices song Pollard's written since Bee Thousand, and some of it sounds like that one good Space Needle album, Voyager, and `Moving Day' sounds like Blake from Jets to Brazil sitting in with Neutral Milk Hotel, and `Good To Know' would be the secret link between Sunny Day Real Estate and the Posies except it's better than anything either band have ever done! When all those washed-up pop geezers over in Cambridge hear this guy, they're gonna stab each other in the back trying to form bands with him!"

"Last call," groaned the bartender. "Except for you. You're shut off."

"Cave-In just had to cut short a national tour," I said, climbing off the bar and staring the bartender in the face. "Their van blew up in Pennsylvania. But if they had made it to New York, rumor has it there was a roomful of major-label A&R guys lying in wait."

The bartender said, "That's it. You're outta here."

"No, it's okay!" I said. "They're not ready to sign. They actually have the whole thing in perspective -- they're self-depreciating, they don't even know how good they are. Steve says that people only think Cave-In are original since they draw on unlikely influences in a genre where no one listens to anything but hardcore, so it's only pseudo-originality! He laughs, then says it's all bullshit! I mean, I think he was sorta joking, but can you imagine?"

The bartender scratched his chin for a second. "So what are they gonna do next?"

"Well, they have a Cure cover and a Bad Brains cover coming out on compilations, and then the Black Sabbath cover will be reissued on Hydrahead's Sabbath tribute CD in October. But I asked them what the next album was gonna sound like, and they looked like they honestly had no idea themselves. And then Steve said, `We're just bullshitting you -- we have a clue, but the only thing left we have going for us is the element of surprise.' "

The bartender had been dragging me out the door by my ankle, and now I was out in the street on my back looking up at the streetlamps, and the jukebox in my head sprang to life with a line, unfortunately enough, from the last Jimmy Eat World album, which I warbled out loud: "When the world caves in, whatcha gonna do?"

"Surprise," the bartender said, giving me a swift kick as he stepped back into the bar. "We're closed."

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