Cave In – Antenna

4 out of 5

Label: RCA

Producer: Rich Costey

Man, who let this slip through?  I can’t claim to know the full story of how Cave In came to RCA, but I can imagine some of the bits and pieces, as nu-metal was shuffling along and underground metal acts like Mastodon and Cave In were suddenly making big enough waves to get noticed by the young clowns wearing suits at major labels who were now having trouble selling albums…  The Next Big Thing has always been a thing, but the Next Big Indie Thing became a real possibility in the mid 2000s, and various genres made a lot of ground with some album deals and some Spin covers and etcetera and etcetera.  ‘Jupiter’ was hailed as some wacky combination of Radiohead melodica-prog-rock and hardcore, and suddenly Cave In was poised for the sky.

But surprisingly, despite the assumptions of lil’ band signing the big contract – I don’t think anyone told them to change their sound, per se.  Which is where the wonder of how this slipped through comes into play – some eager associate gets his favorite band signed and then the big-wigs are left scratching their skulls as they try to carve some singles out of a rather obtuse album.  Cave In got the space and money of a studio and a name producer with Costey (who I have to admit gives this album an appropriate amount of intense space) and yeah, there’s no hardcore vocals except for some yelps (but those left on ‘Jupiter’ as well), and yeah, Brodsky’s most surreal lyrics have been toned down into generally followable stories, and yes, there are some pleasant bridges where previously there might have been some kind of guitar and drum breakdown – but I feel like this was a collaborative decision.  Brodsky’s side projects have always had this Beatles / Radiohead-esque influence, and Adam McGrath’s Clouds shows a love for solid guitar rock, so Antenna absolutely fits along the chart of a group who would choose a direction per album and pursue it.  But there’s no mistaking this for a major label – although those lyrics are understandable and (as usual for Steve, sorry) a tad cheesy, there’s not really a sing-along chorus in there or any phrase that clearly works as an anthem for angry kids.  The drumming is too sparse and layered for rock kids, the guitar and bass work too spacey for the same, but none of it is pole-up-the-butt enough for Radiohead fans, unless they wanted cred for liking a hardcore group.  (Sorry, I got this thing against Radiohead, ya’ll)

The hooks are there, the songs are there, and bringing up Costey again – the production on this is just sick.  However they were paired with the man, he was a perfect choice for this particular album (wouldn’t have been good for other CI albums) as he’s worked with both sides of the fence – pop and metal – to get the mix just right.  Brodsky’s vocals are an important aspect of the music but his voice has never been strong enough to carry a song, so it’s in the front but the guitars get this lovely warm sound that turns into a sparkle when the riffs start flying, the drums getting a lovely thump to match the bass.  The album wanders a bit, and some songs are good but seem added to the album as filler (the songs themselves are not filler, just that I can see them having a 30 minute set and then realizing they needed another song – so a song written out of necessity instead of passion), and cleaning up the metal act makes the whole yearning vocals/lyrics thing a bit much at times, but this is also carryover from ‘Jupiter.’  For fans who looked past the major label stuff to realize that this was still very much a Cave In album (and more densely packed with good songs than ‘Jupiter’ in my opinion), Antenna totally delivered.  Unfortunately for the band and label, though, there’s not a concise enough style to pick up any new converts to easily, more than likely, making it tough to market and sell.

They weathered the blow, though.  Yip yip.

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