I have covered a lot of shows so far in 2022 and last Wednesday’s performance from caroline at (le) poisson rouge was among the best I’ve seen. And yet I struggle to put into words what I experienced. A mix of styles that included elements of folk, rock, country, baroque, classical, experimental, minimalist, and so on—often tapping into these diverse stylings within the same song.
Formed around 2017 in London, the English octet has been recording and releasing tracks over the last few years and on February 25th of this year they released their eponymous debut, caroline (Memorials of Distinction). The album beautifully captures the unique sounds that founding members Casper Hughes, Jasper Llewellyn, Mike O’Malley, Oliver Hamilton, Magdalena McLean, Freddy Wordsworth, Alex McKenzie and Hugh Aynsley have been honing over the years. But to fully grasp their work it’s almost imperative to experience it live.
Performing in the round at LPR was too perfect. Watching the interplay between these eight astonishing multi-instrumentalists was like watching a conductor-less orchestra as they navigated their way through songs. Or more accurately, eight conductors who passed the baton between them and kept what almost felt like improvisation to a clearly defined path. There were moments where the music was almost tenuous, where a single sustained note on a single instrument was occasionally accented by the beat of a drum. Or accompanied by a short flourish of notes from one of the many instruments on stage that included violin, cello, saxophone, flute, and clarinet in addition to the usual drums and bass and in their case two guitars. But those hushed moments would swell and crescendo into a frenzy that practically had smoke coming from their strings. And just when it seemed like it could go off the rails, they would bring it back down again, a musical interlude that allowed everyone to catch their breath, both in the band and the audience. It was really something to behold and I am still struggling to put it into words a few paragraphs later.
Opening for Caroline was Claire Rousay who I was not familiar with previously but whose discography I cannot wait to explore. Also on the experimental side, Rousay’s music is the technical counterpart to caroline’s organic instrumentation. With just her on stage, and her setup consisting of a small midi keyboard, microphone, smartphone, and MaBook, she created soundscapes that consisted of our daily digital life. Voicemails and other voice recordings mixed with samples of ambient sounds, alerts from electronic devices, and occasionally live though altered vocals that brought a sense of humanity to her approach. There were moments that brought to mind the ambient sounds of Brian Eno, the spoken word approach of Laurie Anderson, and the voice samples and electronic beats of The Orb’s brilliant 1992 album U.F.Orb. Yet, the resulting layered sounds she presents are unique and clearly her own.
Make sure to check out the debut album from caroline as well as Claire Rousay’s latest, everything perfect is already here (Shelter Press), and catch both acts live if you get the chance.
Scroll down for pics of the show (photos by Kevin McGann)