Album Review: Sleepyhead by Cavetown
Sleepyhead by Cavetown is quite possibly the bizarrest attempt to cover all avenues and meanings of the word ‘indie’. A gumbo of indie pop, indie rock, indie folk, indie ballad, and straight up teen angst presents the listener with the very confusing persona of a red-headed, barely adult boy. Upon listening to the first half of the album, I was in a trance of peaceful yet frustrated self-victimising. You know, that straight out of a teen movie state in which the main protagonist, burdened with very first world problems, sits on their deluxe king-sized bed in their deluxe king-sized room expecting the audience to feel sorry for them – and we usually do. At first, I was totally loving that role play, however, it wore on me quickly, and the songs became entangled into one angsty mess. So in order to properly review the album, I must distance myself from that teen angst spell. Best case scenario is that I don’t resort to using acronyms like OMG and LOL.
The album starts with two tracks that are literally the same: ‘Sweet Tooth’ and ‘For You’, leaving me unsure whether it was necessary for the second track to be separated from the first at all. Apart from a mellow interlude and a slight half time drum feel, there are no differences between the two. While the overall idea of the songs is creative and new, the content is not. Lyrics such as “I like you, say it back” and “I double tap” (referring to liking a photo on instagram) really pave the way for the juvenile-like themes that are referenced throughout the rest of the album. However one of the more clever lyrics: “Never had a cavity, never had anybody as sweet as you” is actually very insightful with the double entendre of cavity being an empty space and also a tooth disease as a result of “sweetness” (another double entendre). Another track, ‘Feb 14’, (an expectedly juvenile date in the calendar) presents facile imagery of young love i.e. passing notes and exchanging glances in class. The way-too-long (and near ‘Come As You Are’ Nirvana rip off) guitar riff is very hard to follow, and defeats the purpose of a riff itself as it is unmemorable and unimpressive.
Towards the end of the album lays a cluster of indie style ballads. ‘Things That Make It Warm’ is actually a quite lovely and, dare I say it, warm song. It’s wholesome ukulele and accordion sounds mixed with a well treated acoustic guitar and charming harmonising vocals create a sense of delight and love. The next song, however, takes a different approach. ‘Snail’ (featuring Chloe Moriondo who is very possibly a Billie Eilish impersonator) starts off as a melancholy ballad and then quickly switches tempo to become an indie rock song. It doesn’t stop there though. In the interlude it becomes folky and almost celtic in nature. A string section is then introduced, toplining the standard indie rock sound and elevating it to a new flavour of historically Scottish playfulness. Then the end of the song simmers back down to an indie ballad repeating the age old teenage lyric: “I just wanna be a kid”.
That said, there are some redeeming indie innovations scattered throughout the album. It is obvious that one of Cavetown’s favourite dramatic techniques is the use of gradual tempo changes. For example, ‘Sweet Tooth’ slows down after each chorus and speeds back up again into the next verse. There’s also a peaceful and reflective guitar and piano interlude in the following track that breaks up the ‘indie-ness’ of the record with a humble and honest sound. But as soon as that teen-rock, chuggy guitar comes back in, the moment is gone. One musical leap of faith that dramatically backfires is in the song ‘Wishing Well’. All is –pardon the pun– well until the end of the chorus, in which the acoustic song becomes a terrible attempt at some sort of lofi-ish, electro-acoustic mess. Perhaps Cavetown was trying to ‘get with the times’ of electronic drum sounds and casual cussing but neither suit the song at all. One lyric stands out to me as being quite clever: “Did it hurt when you fell down my wishing well”. It sets up a massive cliche, instead hitting with a subtly-dark concept of heartbreak.
Now I know it’s evident by now that I have tried to resist this immense urge to go full angsty teen when listening to this record. However, if you welcome this persona with open arms, you may hear a different album. One of truth, meaning and understanding. One that just, gets you. The world can be lonely and confusing, and this album isn’t afraid to acknowledge that. Cavetown lets the undeniably privileged young adults of the world have their moment in the spotlight of hardship and adversity. The music gives us credit for the first world problems we have to deal with and preaches that our first world problems are still valid problems. And isn’t that what we all want to hear?
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