Album Review: caroline - 'caroline'

Emerging from the depths of the South London art and music scene, the self-titled debut LP from sensational and mysterious 8-piece caroline requires your immediate and full attention as it guides you though encircling, mesmeric riffs and eddies of sound, ready to captivate you in its disarming beauty. A review by Freya Martin.

As soon as the opening chords of dark blue unfurl from caroline’s self-titled debut album, you are irretrievably and irrevocably mesmerised. The enigmatic eight piece from South London have managed to create a masterpiece of multi-instrumentalism and traditional folk, concentrated through the lens of their contemporary South London music scene. caroline sit alongside the likes of shame, Black Country, New Road and Sorry, yet carve out a peaceful little nook that is uniquely and undoubtedly their own. dark blue was the first track to be released by the band, delivered without fanfare or even a Spotify bio to accompany it, instead gently welcoming you into the world of caroline with its lush textures and slowly revolving, hypnotic guitar, ready to be consumed in all its simplicity and complexity.

"The track swells and progresses in swirling eddies of sound, full of the naïve hope of the younger [Casper] Hughes in early 2017"

Having met at university in Manchester, the founding members Casper Hughes (guitar, vocals), Jasper Llewellyn (vocals/drums/cello) and Mike O’Malley (guitar) trialled various iterations of their band before migrating to London, gathering new members and finally settling on this amalgamation of influences and instruments in the form of caroline. Featuring trumpet, cello, flute and two violins, the band is bordering on an orchestra in both membership and sound, combining their breadth of musical skill and influence to create a truly singular sound. Part folk, part post-rock guitar music, part Midwestern emo, caroline manage to skirt the fringes of a multitude of genres without quite slotting into any, simply producing soft, beautiful music.

Good morning (red) follows dark blue, blooming into existence as two swooning violins and the deep cello serenade the metaphorical break of the day and Hughes’ soft vocals invite you in. The track swells and progresses in swirling eddies of sound, full of the naïve hope of the younger Hughes in early 2017, when it was originally written. It's filled with a certain optimism for the UK pre-Brexit, pre-snap election and pre-covid and somewhat foolishly expects a return to power for the then promising Labour party. It is a song of hope, of change and of frustration, preparing to see in a new dawn for the country at the time as much as for a new day.

Reflecting on the track now, the dual sentiments of a hope and frustration remain, though perhaps the delivery has become more desperate and plaintive, “I think I shout it in a more maniacal way now,” says Hughes of the track and the way it has aged since its conception. “I wanted the roughness and loudness of it to be a personification of the will to break free, but also the grief I feel now that hope has receded.” The track is a collage of recordings taken across three years in multiple settings, a long time in the making and carefully built up with texture throughout this time, as new instruments and perspectives were added.

The album fluctuates between long meandering, complex pieces to short emotive songs. Skydiving onto the library roof is broad and expansive, waxing and waning for over 7 minutes, while desperately, simply featuring a solo cello and Llewellyn’s vocals, is 74 seconds of plaintive and beguiling beauty. Almost over before it has even begun, the track is still able to convey such heartfelt emotion and depth, and this perhaps lies within its simplicity. It possible to hear creaks of floorboards and the structure of the room the song was recorded in, something which is prominent throughout the album as a whole. “You can tell it’s recorded in a living room with wooden floorboards,” says Hughes, “It’s not just the sound of the room itself, but also the way it feels to play music in a room”. This DIY, home-recording aspect is integral to the sound and shape of the album, recorded via thrice weekly Zoom sessions, where each track was painstakingly and repeatedly played to exhaustion until every single detail was perfect. And yet, still it feels as though each performance of caroline will be different - with eight supremely talented musician members it is hard not to be consistently evolving, and the onstage translation of this record will doubtless be varied in every iteration.

"10 tracks of softly disarming beauty"

IWR is perhaps the epitome of this constantly evolving technique, the repeated vocal melody continually sung in a round, anchoring the track as all other instruments encircle it. The slow unspooling of the track builds to a sudden burst of powerful, strumming guitar while the vocals soar over the top in unison. Again, the track ebbs and flows with a layered, richly textured tapestry of instrumentation but still feels as though it is slowly turning and revolving back to where it begins.

caroline’s music is immersive and expansive, the band gathering you up in their wake as they carry you through 10 tracks of softly disarming beauty. There is a certain confidence to their delicacy which makes caroline’s music so utterly delicious, each track exquisitely and carefully crafted, yet it is clear that this album is just one of countless possible evolutions. caroline have managed to create an album of true beauty, something that is rarely seen with a debut from a relatively new and unknown band, yet I urge you to sit down, put on those headphones and just absorb caroline in all its gentle glory.

Freya Martin


Edited by: Elliot Fox

In article images courtesy of caroline via Facebook. Video courtesy of caroline via YouTube.