Written by: DR on 20/03/2013 02:52:29

There's a thriving hardcore scene in the US at the moment. And then there is Caravels - a band who, while befitting of the hardcore tag, already seem peer-less and difficult to pigeon-hole. Perhaps it's because, although they've been together since 2006, "Lacuna" is still only their debut LP; maybe it's this relative infancy that makes them seem to not quite fit in. Or maybe it's because, when it feels like when most other bands in the genre were associating themselves with each other, Caravels seemed to disassociate themselves. For instance, when Caravels released a split record, as is the norm in independent music these days, they did so not with a band from their label or scene, but with the post-rock band Gifts From Enola, with whom they also shared their most notable tour.

Certainly, Caravels are not a band in any rush, nor are they a band desperate to fit in. This individuality actually helps make "Lacuna" such a memorable debut; it has enough influences in common with the scene's more popular acts so that it may appeal to many a hardcore fan, but they are combined with outside influences, such as post-rock, math-rock and emo, to a degree seldom explored in the genre. Whereas a lot of bands have a sound built around screamo-influenced vocals, Caravels instead use their phenomenal appreciation of dynamics to create a record recalling the beauty of post-rock as much as the brutality of hardcore. Transitioning between the two extremes is made seamless by the guitarists, who put in what is one of the most texturally fascinating and diverse performances you've heard from the instrument in a long time.

In keeping with both the post-rock and hardcore influences, there is a doubtless vein of catharsis throughout. But rather than this be epitomized by a lyric or vocal, it's a collective, thematic purging maintained by a chilling cohesion between the musicianship and the vocals. Each song understands the importance of creating space to balance with the intense crescendos, and this is particularly evident in "Lacuna", "Tangled", "Having Had & Lost Some Infinite Thing" and "New Zealand", the opening quadruple of songs. All four capitalize on the band's ability to deliver sudden yet sharp climaxes, but they do so with different approaches and different textures in the build up. "Lacuna" exploits angular rhythm to good effect; "Tangled" has wonderfully technical guitar-lines and the ability to go from quiet to explosive in an instant; "Having Had..." instantly begins heavier and darker but, after the song's volatile peak in the middle, it actually produces one of the prettiest instrumental sections of the record; and the guitar tones in "New Zeland" cover every texture between delicate and aggressive. Remarkably, "Lacuna" exercises a staggering amount of restraint adjacent to a breath-taking amount of anguish, meaning they can flick between the two extremes immaculately and without it seeming forced.

A minor drawback to the record, however, is that vocalist Mike Roeslein's voice occasionally gets lost in the mix. His performance would have been more than affecting than it otherwise is if what he was saying was clearly audible the whole time. To a certain point, the fuzzy screams and shouts add another layer to Caravels' dense soundscapes - they certainly never detract from them. But rather than a truly great performance, we do get a very good one. His performance is sharp and emotive throughout, and the album's best songs are, to no coincidence, also the songs in which he's at his most passionate and authoritative. The closing two efforts, for instance, are two of the best songs and display two very different sides to Roeslein. "Ordinary Lives" begins rather gently with twinkling guitars, but his emotion drives the song to a violent, angry and arresting, if brief, outburst. Concluding the record with "Life is still beautiful nonetheless", a simple yet sincere message, the album's closer and the band's most uplifting song to date, "Dog Days" ends the album on an inspiring note which listeners won't help but carry with them for a long time.

A special mention for "Hundred Years": it opens with a tired, languishing riff before gradually introducing each different element. The introspective lyrics at the start cut a figure who's isolated himself from the rest of the world, followed by an infectious group-refrain of "We can stay out late and hope to god it’s okay", then followed by a wall of soaring sound. At the centre of the song - and, indeed, the centre of the album - is the most poignant moment of the record's entire thirty-four minutes: Roeslein, this time, declares with authority, "I still tell myself that I can tell the difference!", before then repeating the same line back to himself, "I still tell myself that I can tell the difference...". Only now his authority is dwindling, and he instead sounds damaged, confused and worn out; it will render your heart utterly wrenched every damn time. It's perhaps the finest song Caravels have penned, and one that combines everything great about the record - the flawless transitions from light to dark, from self-contemplative to outward-facing, from quiet to loud - in just over three minutes.

If a lacuna is an unfilled space then Caravels have, as "Lacuna" proves, been that missing part of our musical landscape and have now started to fill it. It's taken a long time to get here, but it ultimately succeeds a lot in how it's not rushed or forced, and in how it's seemingly been afforded time to develop naturally. While it's not yet the record they will one day write that inevitably sets them apart from any contemporaries in a universe of their own creating, Caravels have still accomplished one of the most difficult things in art: they've combined the most affecting elements of their influences and built from them to form a diverse, creative and compelling world.


Download: Hundred Years, Ordinary Lives, Dog Days
For The Fans of: Gifts From Enola, Pianos Become The Teeth, Thursday, Envy
Listen: Facebook

Release Date 26.03.2013
Topshelf Records

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