Review Summary: CAUTION.
The Caution Children really know how to outdo themselves.
The Floridian band released their debut EP in 2007. Despite its atrocious recording quality, the EP was an overall great piece of work. They carried the same sentiments onto their debut full-length, Vacations
, the next year. This upped the recording quality and production and gave listeners a tighter grip on their unique blend of post-hardcore, screamo, post-rock, and ambient. It was a slight step down as far as songwriting, but still a good entry to their discography. 2011's Unknown Lands
will remain an irremovable blemish on their otherwise solid musical career due to its focus on half-done ideas and overly emotionalized passages.
Before even talking about an album, one must know how to at least somewhat explain it. There is already a problem, then, in this album's case. To be honest, not many things sound a lot like it. And perhaps that's one of the greatest problems. The band seems to feel a need to nonplus the listener at every turn to separate themselves from the modern-day screamo scene, both musically and lyrically. For starters, I suppose I could say that the album is quasi-conceptual from what I could make of it. In a somewhat pretentious manner, the lyrics mostly seem to tie into a very humanistic yet spiritual theme. Most of the stories the songs paint deal with human progress and victory. The stories seem small, but the music tries like hell to amplify it tenfold, usually resulting in a confusing experience. The whole album is exactly that: two jagged puzzle pieces that just don't mesh. Though the ideas are interesting, they're so under-accomplished that it leads to dead ends rather than going much of anywhere at all.
The opening track, "Voynich Manuscript is infuriating in how it begins with a suspense-building intro but just becomes very boring and repetitive afterwards. Almost everything is played at the same dynamic level - save for the introspective ending - and becomes more grating than titillating (setting the precedent for the remainder of the album). The purely ambient track that follows, "Reference to Ayers Rock," feels painfully unwelcome and unsatisfying. It doesn't create a buffer between track one and three but rather breaks the action up entirely. "Cahuachi" continues this trend, starting out decent but quickly descending into perplexing territory when the ambient elements arise. Fast drumming and harshly yelled vocals are not even mixed with these softer elements; instead, they are kept completely separate.
"The Man Behind El Bulli" is, if my research bids me well, a story about the restaurateur behind a successful Spanish eatery that closed in 2011. The lyrics seem to parallel the head chef's success to a monumental landmark in human progress. As bizarre as it seems, it is very convincing with the powerful music behind it, but not even this track doesn't suffer from feeling too empty to hold any emotional or intellectual weight. The album's longest track, "Strange One, Mysterious One," finds the band again making a spectacle out of an otherwise mundane story (this time pertaining to war). The lyrics make things puzzling as usual, an aesthetic that must have been meant to put a listener's brain to work and it is actually accomplished well here. The vocals seem the most passionate here and the post-rock/ambient bits fit nicely in the subdued midsection, with their frantically strummed wall of guitars and tasteful droning. Though the climax following an enormous build-up is fairly unsatisfying, the song comes to an apt close.
The album's closer, "Kowloon Walled City," holds the most explicit post-rock influence out of the rest of the tracks. Its intro is well-controlled and moving, but it soon descends into a mash-up of far too strange-sounding chord progressions and drumming. This song seems to be a testament to all the times the album goes both right and wrong and showcases them both in a single six-minute setting. It all ends with a bang, fading out, reminding us that it didn't really amount to much in the end.
The Caution Children are at point in their career with the release of this album where the ideas on the table, but they don't have the sufficient tools to piece them together efficiently. The music seems to go far too many places, whereas their earlier work was more grounded and focused. Everything seems to be too emotionally demanding, forcing the listener to feel something with every track, which thinly veils their lack of variation and consistent ideas. As emotional and musically logical as it tries to be, everything displayed is ultimately superficial.