I first became aware of Golden Caves when they toured the UK, sharing some dates with fellow Dutch band Sky Architect. I didn’t manage to catch a date where both bands were playing, but I made sure to check out the band online, and have been following them since. They recently released their second album, Dysergy, and it’s an intriguing title to use, implying, before I started listening, that the whole is less than the sum of the parts. Given that I prefer a great album as a whole, rather than a collection of great songs comprising an album, the title is rather ominous. I’ve loved all I’ve heard before from the band, but I approached this album with a little worry.
I needn’t have worried. While they draw on several styles and textures, the album is one cohesive whole – in synergy, rather than dysergy. The title does not refer to the content of the album, so much as the theme. Lyrically, it addresses the idea of dysergy in oneself – not feeling complete or in one’s own world. The album addresses this disconnect or discord with oneself or the world not only through the lyrics but musically too, with instrumental discord used at times to great effect. The album comes together amid a series of dark electronic and atmospheric soundscapes, as one very proggy package that is actually very light, in spite of its dark ingredients. A lot of this is down to the bright and powerful vocals of Remy Ouwerkerk, and, of course, Golden Caves are one of few prog bands that have never been shy to let their pop flag fly. This may put some people off, but it really shouldn’t.
Somehow I’ve ended up listening to a lot of releases for review lately that are inclined towards pop. That’s of no great concern to me, as I like music regardless of genre, so long as it is done well. What I’ve found surprising is just how strong some of these albums have been. But it came as no surprise for me, in the case of Golden Caves. Their previous releases have shown how well they can incorporate a pop sound into their music, without losing any of their edge. If anything, Dysergy provides even more edge than its predecessors. In fact, given the lyrical content and the often dark nature of the music, this is as far away from many people’s idea of pop as it is possible to be. And, again like several albums I’ve reviewed this year, it’s somewhat scarily prescient, for, in these days of quarantine and self-isolation, aren’t we all a little disconnected from the outside world?
The rhythm section of Erik Stein (drums) and Tim Wensink (bass) provide much of the enjoyment for me (and also I guess, much of that aforementioned edge), with their rather brilliant fusion of unconventional grooves. After the sweet and gentle introduction to one of my favourite tracks on the album, Hide and Seek, Stein and Wensink play a prominent role in creating an addictive and enthralling beat that is reminiscent of the tribal rhythms of Vodun. Ouwerkerk only strengthens this comparison by sounding similar in style to Chantal Brown at times. I would love to see this song performed live, I can imagine how much energy there would be. Hide and Seek also gives an indication, within one song, of how well Golden Caves juxtapose quieter and more reflective atmospheres with punchier, more energetic passages, and though it’s the third song, it’s where the album really comes into its own for me.
Temperature provides another rhythm-fest, which is glorious to listen to. It’s another favourite, especially the bendy bass bridge. Wensick provides so much personality to Golden Caves’ music, and this song really showcases that. Ouwerkerk’s vocals, of course, soar over the top, but it’s Wensick who really shines for me on Temperature. Ouwerkerk has her turn on the following track instead as the tempo slows considerably for How To Care, which is absolutely gorgeous in its minimalism, and Ouwerkerk’s emotive vocals are definitely the star – reminding me a little of Skin, from Skunk Anansie. I hope my comparing her voice to Chantal and Skin goes some way to illustrate the potency and power of Ouwerkerk’s voice.
But it’s not all about powerful vocals, and the introduction to Happy Dreams provides the most joyful and upbeat feel of the album so far, with an appropriately dreamy repetitive vocal refrain over a pulsating beat, before shifting into more of a song-like structure only after three minutes – yet retaining the vocal refrain, if not so repetitively. Elise Polman’s keys finally get to come to the fore in Happy Dreams. They’ve been impressive throughout the album, but largely relegated to the background. They continue to shine in the introduction to Samsara, but the stars of this track are the drums of Stein and some gorgeous guitar from Alex Ouwehand, and, of course, the stunning vocals of Ouwerkerk. Ouwehand’s guitar is never particularly prominent, and very rarely takes a leading role in the soundscapes, but there’s no doubting either Ouwehand’s technical prowess nor his importance in the mix. Again, while the album may be called Dysergy, the band are a perfect example of synergy.
Samsara ends what is my favourite sequence of songs (that began with Hide and Seek). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Little Lonely, just as there’s nothing wrong with the opening pair of tracks, Chromosome and Dignity. This is an album without a bad or weak song, and they’re actually all thoroughly enjoyable, but if they are all great, it’s inevitable I will find some greater than others, and I guess these are the three that don’t make quite so much of an impression with me. Unlike the following Black Hound, which was released as a single for obvious reasons. It’s a very strong song, which shows all the strengths of Golden Caves, though it is not entirely representative of the sound of the album, being heavier in parts (especially vocally) than anything else here. But, wow, what a song!
After the bruising brutality of Black Hound, Somehow provides a much-needed comedown and is a perfect closing number. It’s delicate and beautiful, and ends an album that may be called Dysergy, and describes dysergy musically and lyrically, but which is anything but dysergistic. It may be a collection of incredibly good songs, but the whole is definitely greater than the sum of those parts. The quality of the songs is uniformly great, despite how it may come across in this review. I may like three of the songs less than the others, but in no way are those three of a lesser quality. This whole album oozes quality. And in a world where we are all experiencing some disconnect, it’s a welcome quality.
01. Chromosome (4:21)
02. Dignity (4:24)
03. Hide and Seek (5:27)
04. Temperature (6:05)
05. How to Care (5:23)
06. Happy Dreams (6:18)
07. Samsara (5:25)
08. Little Lonely (4:45)
09. Black Hound (5:04)
10. Somehow (6:02)
Total Time – 53:14
Romy Ouwerkerk – Vocals
Tim Wensink – Bass
Erik Stein – Drums
Elise Polman – Keyboards
Alex Ouwehand – Guitars
Record label: Independent
Country of Origin: The Netherlands
Date of Release: 13th March 2020