Review Summary: always on the other side of bulletproof glass from all thatNew Preoccupations
is aptly named, an album that has a lot on its mind. While the band's previous work explicitly ruminated on injustices and apocalypses born of bad politics over energetic emo bangers, Caracara's latest album works with a defter touch. Dreamy imagery collapses into wrenchingly blunt statements in the lyrics of William Lindsay, a surreal travelogue of thoughts that reads like a love letter written inside someone's head between the blur of one streetlight and the next, slowly drifting into sleep. It's an appropriate fit for New Preoccupations
, a gentler and more melodic offering from the Philadelphia four-piece.
Seemingly burning through their fire and fury on the Gates-esque "Hyacinth", Caracara quickly settle into a more thoughtful sound which works with empty space and dynamics. This is not to say the band lose their energy; first single "Strange Interactions in the Night" moves and grooves like Jimmy Eat World at their best, while the artier "Harsh Light" could be a cut from Foxing's masterwork Nearer My God
. The band's confidence in every sound they try on and the album's excellent pacing make every step feel like the right one, so the Anthony Green-featuring "Colorglut", the closest thing here to a pop single, comfortably shares space with "Useful Machine", a dreamy electronic cut that feels a direct descendant from The Receiving End of Sirens' second album.
Lindsay got sober in 2020 just as the band was beginning to write what would become New Preoccupations
. The lifestyle change feels baked into the very structure of the record, even when it's not being directly addressed, though lyrics like "might need a greater length of time / between the comedown and the high" certainly seem to grapple with the decision to stop drinking for good. "I was trying to tell myself to stop long before I did stop [...] I approached the last handful of songs from that perspective and with that narrative in mind: This is the story that I've been telling unconsciously. How can I pull it all together? What are the ingredients we still need to make this a cohesive narrative work?" In the last minute of closer "Monoculture", Lindsay finally cuts loose with a strained series of screams of "I'm finally free to let go". Whatever he's letting go of - alcohol, a relationship, the person he used to be or something else entirely - one can feel the steady tension that has built up across the preceding 40 minutes dissipate as producer Will Yip does what he does best and fades the vocals into the background.
It's a staggering finale to a record where softness constantly belies a subtle intensity, a cohesive piece of art that never compromises its kaleidoscope of moods, tones and genres in service to some restrictive idea of story. The linked middle trio of "Nocturnalia", "Ohio" and "Peeling Open My Eyelids" is the closest New Preoccupations
comes to some kind of mission statement, albeit one born from heat-hazey drives down American highways where meaning seems to dissipate into the overwhelming breadth of feeling. "Ohio", perhaps the best song here, blossoms from a gentle beginning to a moving finale which doesn't need words to explain the album's beautiful melancholy. "So much closer to where I started than where I thought I'd be", Lindsay sings. It may be an intensely personal sentiment, borne of individual experience, but fuck, aren't we all?