Whose demise and imminent collapse shall we bemoan today — indie rock or “The Simpsons”? Both have been invaded in recent years by tepid, superficial admirers who have sucked the vitality out of each respective art form by repeating the same cheap tricks ad infinitum. Honestly, I can’t even watch old “Simpsons” episodes without thinking of this season premiere’s premise, “The Simpsons Go To Ottawa” (as in Kansas — they hit Canada last year I think).
Likewise, when I think of the ugly term “indie rock” I have visions of Liz Phair playing GameCube and getting bitch-slapped after her X-Box boyfriend finds out she’s been cheating on him. I think of that, or about the strange conglomeration of CBGB T-shirts followed in a downward trajectory by khaki shorts and dirty flip-flops — the standard dress of the new crop of frat boys who are rechristened as punk rockers (although their knowledge of this music is as watered-down as the beer they drink) after a heretofore indie band jumps the shark and falls right back into the shark tank. In the case of Cave In, the Massachusetts quartet coming to Toad’s Place this Friday, the tank is the property of the Bertelsmann Music Group, who released the group’s major-label debut, Antenna.
Cave In embodies all the stereotypes of hip rockers, but that’s their problem. They come off smelling too heavily of a hapless opening band trying a bit too hard to tell whoever’s listening that they really can rock. At least one of them has so many tattoos on his forearms he needs to start thinking about moving up to his biceps soon (unless he already has, in which case he’s screwed because I’m sure he has no idea where to go from there). Unlike other bands who have to sound radio-friendly in order to prove they can play, Cave In CAN PLAY. Before Antenna they were the bastions of East Coast indie heavy metal, and their ability to hold a riff glimmers for about 10 seconds near the beginning of “Inspire,” and then quickly vanishes as the song morphs into a throwaway that might as well be from the American Pie soundtrack (though I’ll stand by the Libertines, bless ’em).
The members also claim to be heavily influenced by My Bloody Valentine, whose sonic experimentation they seem to admire — as Stephen Brodsky professes when lauding Kevin Shields’ gift for “smearing all the tones” of the guitar together. That’s nice and all, but he actually spreads the tones out and lets them drop like flyers (or bricks) from a skyscraper, relentlessly and consistently surprising your eardrums. Occasionally Cave In does demonstrate the rush of noise that bands like Longwave use masterfully, but mostly the sound is a bit too pristine. This is particularly troublesome in the interesting epic “Sea Frost,” which could have really taken off into something fantastic if it had had the leakage required, but instead sounds like a well-calibrated toilet flushing. Cave In’s guitars have that characteristic crunch that tells your ears that they are distorted, but at times the tone reeks of “Sk8ter Boi.”
Speaking of Avril Lavigne and that unyielding sk8ter boi, Brodsky seems to have taken a cue from her on the album’s most abysmal track, “Joy Opposites.” Sample lyrics from Avril and the Matrix: “He wanted her, she’d never tell/secretly she wanted him as well.” Now Cave In: “He loves to hate, she hates to love/and all of the above.” Again, Avril: “He was a boy, she was a girl/can I make it any more obvious?” Cave In: “He’s always lost, she knows the way/softly he’ll say–” And Avril takes the bait in her next verse: “What more can I say?” Am I wrong, or are Avril’s lines more rhythmically pleasing? I guess that’s what happens when you jump through the Matrix; Cave In just doesn’t seem to understand that they’re all pods and that this music is all numbers. That’s fine because few do understand, but they could at least get the correct number of syllables in each line.
And, though I hate to do this, let’s talk about the name. Cave In. Cave In? Are you guys really attached to that? It’s nice and all, but if you want to continue on this path, may I suggest a slight alteration? Just think it over. Ready? Here it is: Bottoming Out.