Caroline Says – No Fool Like an Old Fool
Caroline Says' second album retreats further into the shadows; with an emphasis on texture and atmosphere, it is lovely, but sadly it still feels like something is missing
Re-released last year ahead of her new record on Western Vinyl, Caroline Says’ homespun debut sounded like a series of experiments heard through a door left ajar, each suggesting a different possible destination for her future work. Her second album, however, retreats further into the shadows, an even quieter and more withdrawn affair that consolidates her sound with an emphasis on texture and atmosphere. The Austinite recorded the album in a “disgusting mildewed basement apartment” and as a listener you feel like you’re holed up in that dingy room with her, the door sealed shut.
Much of No Fool Like an Old Fool is built on loops of chopped-up guitar and Caroline Sallee’s hushed, multi-layered vocals, and the recursiveness of the music contributes to a sense of claustrophobia that’s reflected in the lyrics. On Sweet Home Alabama she imagines herself trapped in a dead-end town, daydreaming of 'all the ways to get out' while a snippet of countrified guitar plods along in the background, sounding wearier with each repetition. Other songs, meanwhile, map dreary cul-de-sacs of the mind. 'This time it’s deadlocked' she sings on Black Hole, 'I gave up / I was tired.'
No Fool... often recalls other loop-based music, echoing the haunted loneliness of Dirty Beaches and drawing upon kitschy mid-century pop in a way reminiscent of Ela Orleans. But where those artists’ best work manages to churn over the same mood until it condenses into a concentrated slab of sublime feeling, Sallee’s songs tend to expand outwards, the feeling established at the outset spreading itself thinner as the loops cover more area.
'I just don’t know why I still feel like something’s missing', Sallee murmurs sleepily on First Song, a line which sums up the feeling of listening to this record. Songs like Mea Culpa, with its soothing backing vocals, or Rip Off, on which slide guitar and cosy keyboard drones coalesce into something resembling a folkier version of Beach House, are full of great ideas and sound lovely. But they never seem to find what they’re looking for, as if they’re stuck swirling in that dank basement where Sallee dreamed them up, searching for the light.
Listen to: First Song, Rip Off