Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
It is fundamentally coincidental that the photograph on the cover of Seattle band The Cave Singers debut album is the three men of various sizes and hirsute-ness huddled together in an embrace in the middle of a greeny piece of leafiness. It's a serene spot where you'd struggle to find cellular phone reception and you'd likely be just a couple of itchy yards walking from a watering hole (one without booze) where the water's been untouched by human hands and torsos for weeks or months, just ripe for skinny-dipping and cannonballs. It was an accident that these three men are shown looking to be bracing in this here vastness for a cataclysmic downpour, something that's going to soak them straight to the bone and make the shivers feel like tremors. They're holding each other for protection, for the brotherhood that it feels like it might bring, forming a three-part fetal position.
So much randomness went into the design and concept of the photo that appears on Invitation Songs that it's ridiculous. Ah, just yankin' your chains. Man, it's kind of too perfect, is really what that photograph is. It's one of the most gripping and simple album covers of the year, expressing so much in the unspoken sentiments that need minimal colors, minimal shades and just millions of leaves and a couple far-off faces. They suggest so many of the record's themes and discussion points before the cellophane is ever torn off of the jewel case like snakeskin. There lead singer Pete Quirk, guitarist Derek Fudesco and drummer Marty Lund are - in each other's arms - prepared for the worst or in the middle of recovering from the worst. It's a scary feeling seeing three people (especially in a photograph?) especially in the middle of such a picturesque scene of wilderness readying themselves for something bad - something that could knock them on their asses or worse. It should make you wonder what's outside the borders of the photo or building up into a big black and gray storm system or hot cell some miles down the road. It really frightens a person, that unseen threat. It can just motor across the land, turning everything into nighttime and have its way with you.
On Invitation Songs, Quirk, Fudesco and Lund switch over all of the days over to nights, pulling down all of the shades and letting the wood-burning fireplace crack to life. They don't impart much of the dread that they could be giving off on the cover of the record in the actual material. There's a sense of isolation in the music that lacks exploitation, fear and dramatization. It's partially sentimental and altogether bittersweet in what it wants you to feel or think about. The intention might be to get one into a warm place where the toes, finger tips and nose ends can thaw out over a cup of coffee or hot chocolate - remembering faint kisses and other moments like the times when you're outdoors or driving and you've had the ability to watch a wild hawk or eagle just soar without any considerable effort and just sort of ogle with a mouth turning dry. It's an album for frosty mornings when the last thing you want to do is go outside and see if the car will start. The last thing you want to do is to feel your lungs churn out whiteness and to feel your cheeks turn into breakable pinkness. It's also what you wish for - the undeniable feeling of being alive and moving those limbs here and there. These are things that the Cave Singers wisely don't take for granted. You can tell - not just from the art that they make in their folkish, backwater manner - but in the Thanksgiving pictures that they recently posted on their site. One is of the entire spread of food and the others show them sitting and touring around a farm in the middle of nowhere - a map of desolation. The farmhouse looks inviting, with wallpaper that appears pleasantly passed its prime by decades, there's a broken down manure spreader, some swine, some cows, cats, cold weather, a horizon that could make the eyes blur and the beginning of a sunset that looks almost magical. The entire setting, or at least the way it was photographed, is a lot like the record they created. All of the same dimensions - the frost neighboring the toastiness - apply.