Review; Caves – “Betterment”
I must start with an apology to Bombed Out Records; I was sent this album for review purposes ages ago and while I’ve listened to the record innumerable times, I’ve totally slept on doing the actual review. For that I can make no real excuses other than the fact that I’m slack (as you may have noticed), so all apologies for the delay.
Caves are a three-piece punk rock band from Bristol and “Betterment” is their second full-length album and was released in July on CD by Bombed Out Records and on LP by Yo-Yo Records. Produced by Peter Miles (The Cut Ups, Crazy Arm, The King Blues), the sound of the record is massive and as far as nailing your colours to the flag goes, there’s no clearer manifesto than kicking off your album with the refrain of “I don’t care, I don’t care, go fuck yourself”. With that, we take off at light speed with fast, chugging guitars married to stomping drums and some nifty bass work, with a big fat sound that brings to mind The Breeders and such like. There are plenty of “woahs” present, adding to the anthemic nature of the opening track, a theme that continues throughout the record.
The relentlessness continues on “Build Against” with grungey riffage giving way to the refrain of “come back to what you know”, suggesting a comfort in familiarity and community. “Sometimes, sometimes leaving is hard” is a fitting lyrical theme for a band that tours as hard as Caves do; they are currently in the midst of a month-long European tour and have traversed the continent and the States many times. This is borne out in the evident tightness and dynamics; guitars are given room to breathe before things kick back in at a frenetic pace.
The “boy-girl” dual vocal attack brings to mind RVIVR, and while it may be somewhat the lazy comparison, if you can imagine the driving pop-punk of said band mixing with the melodic nuance of Lemuria, then I think you’re in the ballpark. The pace and infectious energy of the first half of the record is brought to a close by Lou’s solo acoustic rendition of the title track; a slow-building introspective number that sounds like it was recorded live in the middle of the night somewhere, like a punk rock lullaby with its cry of “I’ve never believed in you” that comes to an abrupt end before giving way to the sound of footsteps walking away.
We’re then met by the wail of mangled guitars before things kick back into high gear on the aptly named “Run” with the fist-in-the-air sing-a-long woahs and “running, running, running” refrain. The energy displayed is unrelenting and the record sails past in a blur of fast, infectious guitars, fuzzy bass runs and clattering drums with plenty four-on-the-floor tom action that often sounds on the edge of complete collapse before things are brought right back with one of many deep hooks prevalent throughout the record. This is a hard-rocking melodic punk record of the finest calibre, with only the closing track “Ender” breaching the three minute mark, but also a pop-punk record that manages to avoid the clichéd pitfalls on the genre, displaying great maturity, insightful subject matter and a grasp of dynamics far beyond the characteristic blur.
My personal favourite track may be “Babyccino”, the second last track on the album with its call of “Holding on, holding on strong” and its usual of what sounds like Hammond/B3 organ mixing with sustained octave chords before descending into chaos as it ends and moves into the final track of the record with its bass chords, pained call-and-response vocals and bass/guitar interplay. The familiar cry of “1,2,3,4” greets us once more before kicking into a fat bluesy stomper of a riff before picking up the pace and hurtling towards the end with a thumping instrumental jam that I can picture climaxing with thrown guitars and kicked over cymbal stands with the suitable scream of feedback. Brilliant.
All in, I’d say that “Betterment” is undoubtedly one of the finest UK punk rock records of the year and will rank highly when it comes to the ever-so-important end of year listings. Caves are a hard-working, hard-rocking pop-punk rock’n’roll band that have delivered a record full of passion, hooks and sing-a-long earworms that will nestle in your brain for days. They’re currently out on tour through Europe and will be back in the UK next weekend when they play some shows with Pure Graft. They’ll be at The Opium in Edinburgh on September 26 so make sure and pick up a copy of this record on vinyl at one of the shows. You can also get the album as a pay-what-you-want download from their bandcamp page (or the link above).