The shambolic British band caroline spent five years making its eponymous 2022 debut album, and released much of its content as singles beforehand. When the band initially formed in 2017 it was just a quartet, but over time it doubled in size, with a wooly bricolage of strings and horns thickening its shaggy, rustic sound that collides and blurs all kinds of stylistic ingredients. On the 2020 single “Dark Blue” ragged fiddles conflate hillbilly music with the sustained drones of Tony Conrad, draping its piercing tones over a steadily pulsing mélange of acoustic guitars, an almost motorik beat, and some reticent vocals.
At times the London group’s loosely folky sound recalls the delicate pop of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci at its most fragile and narcotic, mirroring a distinctly UK gloss on the American folk tradition and heart-on-sleeve emo. Yet even when developing a full head of steam there’s something innately chill about caroline’s music. A lattice of strummed and plucked guitars float around slack rhythms like the members were discovered around a campfire, but little details pierce that sense of naivete, such as the digital disruptions in the lilting flow of “Good Morning (Red),” transforming a dreamy folk-pop song into a slice-and-dice mash-up with terse bursts of in-the-red noise, or the gnarled guitar and percussive spasms that hijack the harmonium swells in “Engine (eavesdropping).”
Parsing the band’s disparate elements provides as much genuine pleasure as simply letting go within its sprawling mélange. As Pitchfork has said, “caroline take a molecular-gastronomy approach to both sweeping post-rock and weeping Midwest emo, toying with structure, arrangement, and texture. As it progresses, caroline becomes a daring document of its creators’ process, maintaining just enough convention to draw attention to the way their atypical presentation defies it.”