Caroline Rose - Loner - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Caroline Rose - Loner

by Jon Burke Rating:9 Release Date:2018-02-23
Caroline Rose - Loner
Caroline Rose - Loner

It was an icy Sunday night in February. No stars. Iowa’s green now just an endless expanse of dirty white, splayed out for miles on either side of the narrow highway. I was returning from a last minute run to the grocery store—Iris needed diapers for daycare in the morning and so I had no choice but to venture off my comfy couch and out into the cold. Jess stayed home with the sleeping baby and our pile of cats.

At the store my depression, which I try to rein-in with exercise and bupropion, began to creep-out somewhere in the dairy aisle. I don’t know what it is about shopping but sometimes it just makes me feel cosmically hopeless. Occasionally in these moments song lyrics overtake my thoughts and that night, wandering the aisles, I began to vacillate between: “Up the stairs mister/ Eat y'self fitter!” and “No alarms and no surprises… pleaseeee.” I am so much fun at parties.

Milk, coffee and diapers secured, I checked-out and crunched my way across the snow-packed parking lot. Now driving, I turned on the radio and caught the end of a song I didn’t recognize that transitioned into another I’d never heard before. A spare pipe organ playing staccato eighth notes in a tone suggesting a rather dour circus or carnival atmosphere. Then, Caroline Rose’s rusty, soulful voice intones:

“Floating around in the vacuum of space/ Everything here it looks the same/ Like aisles and aisles of boxes and cans/ Everything is just more of the same thing.”

It was just so perfectly apropos and, though Rose’s lyrics weren’t specific in the way Bruce Springsteen’s can be, she was able to elicit that same kind of intimate emotional identification which defines The Boss’ best songs. “More of the Same” may feel Springsteenian but, musically, it’s a rather spacey, electronic track that has more in common with “Born Slippy” than “Born to Run.” In fact, Rose, once a rather minimalist folk artist, seems to have decamped from Earth altogether for her new record. She set-up shop somewhere off-world, looking back at our tiny lives with a kind of gorgeous detachment that one could mistake for nihilism if Rose wasn’t so keen on pointing out the beautifully intricate patterns we establish in our day-to-day routines.

“Cry” sounds a bit like an Operators song with a feminist bent. The track starts out like a conventional radio teenybopper tune about the glamorous life of a young celebrity. The driving beat and over-the-top synths establish a sweet pop patina, à la Katy Perry, which Rose quickly tarnishes with lines like:

“Where are you climbing to girl/ There’s nothing for you up there/ Better come on back down you silly thing / You’ll learn your place, yet”

The what-really-lies-beneath-the-image theme continues with “Jeannie Becomes A Mom,” a four minute and twenty-one second reality check for anyone chasing capitalist dreams. Rose evolves the track from a shuffling beat into a whirling, soulful jam of epic proportions. It’s stunning and just one of many equally impressive tracks on an album that blindsided me with its brilliance over and over on my first few listens. Practically every track on Loner should be a single.

In terms of musical referents, Caroline Rose is careful to distinguish herself from her peers while also nodding now and again to some sounds and genres she likes. “Getting to Me” is an Andrew Bird-style, layered pizzicato and snappy snare, affair. “To Die Today” feels a bit like Angel Olsen fronting The Knife except, where Olsen feels exposed and vulnerable, Rose comes across as powerful and self-assured. “Soul No. 5” is the kind of self-aware, surf rock, pop gem that Tennis has been trying to make their entire career.   

The album’s final track, “Animal,” is the kind of closer most artists only dream about. The song’s slight, strummed opening builds to some really interesting vocal work by Rose. In an almost jazz style, Rose hangs off the back of each musical phrase, seeming to almost verbally trip into the next. The lurching, halting quality to Rose’s delivery, combined with organ stings, comes across like a stumbling drunk, walking home from the bar. By “Animal’s” cacophonous conclusion, Rose is wailing the song title over and over and then, suddenly, silence. It’s haunting.

Like 2017 before it, 2018 is shaping up to be yet another banner year for music. It would be a shame if this lovely record gets overlooked simply because bigger labels or better known artists steal Loner’s thunder because this thing booms. It would also be a shame if Loner’s genius gets attributed to anyone other than Caroline Rose because, to be clear, this is 100% her album and it’s magnificent.

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