The opening track on Welcome Joy—the Cave Singers' follow-up to their 2007 debut, Invitation Songs—is "Summer Light," a sparse and lovely pop-folk song with a gleaming guitar riff and uncomplicated but spirited drumming. The song is also an invitation—in the opening line, singer Pete Quirk coyly mumbles, "Come on baby, let's take a ride/And we might make it to morning light/The sun is bright and bold and brave/My car is a stone that gently waves." A soft shaker kicks in, the guitar plays on, and suddenly you're in the car, riding shotgun with the windows down—"We sing to the radio as we drive on," Quirk continues. "We don't care where we are/We don't care if we arrive soon." With relaxed percussion, subtle harmonies, and guitar riffs that race along like an old Buick on a Southern highway, for 35 minutes, Welcome Joy—a title the band took from a John Keats poem—takes you on an easy ride to wherever it is you're happiest.
The second track, "Leap," brings to mind fireflies fluttering in tall grass at dusk—the air is still humid, but the breeze has cooled enough to leave goose bumps when it kisses skin. Or you might be far out in the woods, rays of the afternoon sun dancing on the ground through a thick canopy of evergreens. Or maybe there's a swimming hole for you to jump into. For Quirk, the songs remind him of the East Coast where he grew up.
"I was thinking about where I'm from—New Jersey and the Jersey Shore, and kids swimming at night and going pool hopping. I was there until I was about 21; the songs are inspired by little cinematic things that I remember from being there."
The Cave Singers started quietly in 2006, following the breakup of Quirk's post-punk band Hint Hint.
"I started playing acoustic stuff because I didn't have a practice space, so I had to record stuff in my room on my four-track," says Quirk, of the Cave Singers' early days. "I had to be quieter, so my roommate wouldn't get pissed off."
Then one afternoon, his roommate—Derek Fudesco of Murder City Devils and Pretty Girls Make Graves—joined him for a jam session.
"We were both recording stuff—I was doing stuff for a movie, mostly electronic bass and drum machines and vocals," explains Fudesco. "And Pete was doing a lot of vocal stuff. [One day] I was playing his guitar, messing with it, coming up with little repetitive riffs."
Fudesco's playing style—a percussive, repetitive fingerpicking that has become as much of a Cave Singers trademark as Quirk's worn, weary voice—also developed out of necessity; always a bass player in his former bands, Fudesco just didn't really know how to play the guitar.
Once Quirk and Fudesco built up a solid set of songs, they sought out a drummer to join them for live shows and found former Cobra High drummer Marty Lund, who happened to live a couple blocks away.
"We'll set up a recorder and just play for five or six hours—jamming," says Fudesco of the band's creative process, before laughing and correcting himself. "Not jamming, it's not like we're noodling, there are no wailing solos or anything. We just kind of freestyle songs."
"The actual songwriting is pretty enjoyable," Quirk adds. "We just hang out. It's organic. The songs just come together."
On Welcome Joy, Fudesco's guitar sets the pace for many of the songs; his steady riffs feel effortless, reflecting the band's laid-back approach to songwriting.
"I like linear music, something that rolls along," says Fudesco. "That's what I enjoy listening to and writing. Our songs tend to be based around one idea, and we just let it go as long as it can until it's not interesting anymore."
But while the riffs repeat within each song, there's still plenty of variation over the course of the album. On "At the Cut," Fudesco's guitar is an aggressive Americana/rock 'n' roll jangle. On "Leap," he picks the strings more delicately, the notes sounding quick, quiet, and bright. "I Don't Mind" is more playful, almost Wilco-y, and "Beach House" is smoother and more relaxed.
However the Cave Singers do it—organically, accidentally, whatever—it works. Welcome Joy's 10 solid tunes make good on Quirk's opening invitation to take you on a ride. Regardless of where you end up, the Cave Singers will make sure it's someplace warm, someplace full of joy.