Its hard to describe "Caution" or indeed Hot Water Music in terms of sound. The band began as a typical Gainesville hardcore punk band, but by 2002, ten years into their career, they had long been in the habit of drawing influences from all kinds of other genres.
They had mastered pop-punk's sense of melody without pandering to any typically commercial sound; they had taken elements of prog-rock in the form of occasionally unusual guitar work but wisely side-stepped its tendencies towards lumbering, overlong instrumentals; they had even absorbed emo's heart-on-sleeve lyricism and delivery, thankfully avoiding all the usual emo-cliches. All of this, combined with the band's punk/hardcore roots makes for an interesting and varied sound.
Both vocalists (Chuck and Chris) have what is in my opinion a brilliant vocal style; rather than divide between clean melodic vocals, and shouting/screaming like many hardcore/punk bands, both singers' styles are somewhere in between, preferring to use a very rough sounding melodic delivery, only occasionally breaking into a shout or a clean line or two when the need takes them. The guitars incorporate punk-style powerchords, but also more intricate instrumental work and the occasional melodic solo, and the rhythm section are tight as hell, perfectly integrating the bass and drums into the sound, subtly adding genius fills in for even greater effect.
Opener, "Remedy" demonstrates all of this quite amply, especially towards the end of the song, where one vocalist sings a low slow vocal line as the other yelps out "no regrets, or falling fits, ill strip the gauze and bleed it" over the top, while simultaneously playing a nice little high-pitched solo-ey riff over the heavier chord work and driving feel of the bass and drums, building up into an amazing crescendo.
This quality continues with "Trusty Chords," an ode to the way music can get you through anything, driven by a jumpy rhythm before breaking into a chorus which perches itself a few notches above "anthemic," something HWM consistently pull off.
The exact same thing can be said about the quasi-title track "I Was On A Mountain" with its torrent of off-the-wall riffs and "One Step To Slip" with its neat bassline subtly harmonised gang-vocal chorus, and seemingly random yet brilliant guitar work.
Solid drumbeats and echoey guitar lines usher in "It's All Related" followed by some suitably gravelly singing, and yet another one of those amazing choruses that HWM have made into an art-form. The song as a whole is rather repetitive, but it"s the good bits that are repeated most, so it gets my vote!!!
A torrent of ascending melodic riffs topped off by a wailing solo forms the intro to "The Sense," a song made all the more impressive by another great showing from the vocalists, with a similar slow-melody-meets-higher-yelped-line combination to the one at the end of "Remedy" but used this time as a brilliant chorus. Halfway into the album, and Hot Water Music can do no wrong!
"Not For Anyone" is more subdued vocally, and would probably earn the title of "most emo song" on the album. Despite this, and the relatively simplistic structure and instrumental playing, the catchy tunes and call-and-response vocals in the outro serve to rescue the song from average-territory, and simultaneously add further variety to the album.
"Sweet Disasters" sounds like two half-finished songs bolted together and given a sound kick up the arse. It is, as a result, abso-feckin-lutely brilliant.
"Alright For Now" is driven by a groovy bassline, powerful but precise drumming, and some subtle squeally guitar lines, which carry the almost-shouted vocals into yet another eargasmicly brilliant chorus. Chuck and Chris manage to inject the simple line of "I'm alright for now but I haven't been, I got lots of shit behind me" with unbelievably raw emotion and venom in equal amounts. If you listen carefully, you can hear some half-hidden piano tinklings in the bridge too.
A faster number, "We'll Say Anything We Want" deals with paranoia and insomnia, and has some positively feral drumming throughout. The added speed is at the expense of an amazing chorus this time, but the catchiness of the verses and the beautifully harmonised vocals make up for this.
"Wayfarer" was the first HWM song I ever heard, and is still one of my favourites to this day. The lyrics on the surface deal with gambling, but look into it a little further, and they are much more insightful; telling of how many our actions can affect what is to come, and all the things around us, throughout our lives. Also, it is home to a chorus that puts every other song in existence to shame. Made completely out of long "whoahs," arranged into breathtakingly beautiful melodies, it coasts along on a solid and catchy drumbeat, and could send a shiver down the spine from a mile away.
"The End" is the perfect way to end "Caution" both in terms of title and music. The enigmatic chorus of "I've been tongue-tied, tired and sick, Like I'm training for the end/I have been gasping for air, I've been training for the end" launching out of the speakers on top of a wailing solo just tops of the Caution Experience perfectly.
Overall, this is an album with absolutely no skippable tracks, and to my mind, absolutely no weak points. It is a classic and essential purchase for anyone who likes their melodic rock with balls and a hefty serving of honesty. Fucking A!
5/5 without a shadow of a doubt!