Personnel: Sam Hopkins (vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards); Matt Iwanusa (vocals, guitar, synthesizer, drums, percussion); Stefan Marolachakis (vocals, drums); Jeff Barre (vocals); Jimmy Carbonetti (guitar, lap steel guitar); Ward Williams, Christiana Liberis (strings); Scott Stapleton (piano); Matthew Prescott Clark, Greg Wizourick (percussion).
Audio Mixer: Michael Brauer.
Recording information: Rumpus Room, NYC.
After three years between albums, Caveman return with a new label (the first rock outfit to sign with hip-hop label Cinematic Music Group) and a new attitude on their third full-length, Otero War. The Brooklyn quintet still use atmospheric synths and a layered approach to their warm indie rock, but emerge from the wallowing haze of 2013's Caveman with crisper, more assertive production. Right from track one, the propulsive "Never Going Back" delivers melodic hooks and more pronounced drums, encouraging toes to tap. However, it remains anchored to a reflective spirit that marks the vast majority of the band's output. That's especially evident on the ballad "The State of Mind," which employs string voices and sustained synth chords under a vulnerable performance by lead singer and main songwriter Matt Iwanusa. A later, more intense track is the guitar-squalling, cymbal-crashing "I Need You in My Life," a rocking plea for a better version of oneself. Overall, though, the tone is more uplifting, almost seeming to sigh with a weightlessness rarely sensed on prior releases. Outright celebratory tunes like "Life or Just Living" ("It's just the way I am/What a feeling") and "Lean on You" seem to make a play for radio, if the figurative FM dial. On the whole, Otero War finds the group sounding notably more comfortable in their own skin. ~ Marcy Donelson