caroline – ‘caroline’ review: a hypnotising debut from an octet bursting with ideas

The Rough Trade-signed band’s gorgeous, challenging debut incorporates midwest emo, Appalachian folk and more into a thing of unique beauty

The journey of caroline to their debut album is also a valuable lesson in taking your time. The band’s self-titled full-length, released by Rough Trade, arrives close to a decade after the band first came together, and the years spent honing and refining their sound, list of members and philosophy haven’t been wasted.

Starting out in the mid-2010s as a three-piece post-punk band made up of core members Jasper Llewellyn (drums, vocals, cello), Mike O’Malley (guitar) and Casper Hughes (guitar, vocals), the band have since accrued five more members and seen their sound shape-shift into something far more untraditional and unique.

This progression is shown chronologically on the debut album. Its opening track, ‘Dark blue’, is also the first the band ever wrote, and revolves around a simple but hypnotic guitar line. From there, they stretch the boundaries of the guitar/bass/drums format they started out with and travel into unexplored new territories.


Album highlight ‘IWR’ begins with just a chorus of voices and delicately plucked acoustic guitar, before gathering momentum as drums, strings and percussion join in until it all falls away. The track ends with just the acoustic and Llewellyn’s captivating, chant-like vocals, which can be traced back to his roots playing Appalachian folk music. On ‘desperately’, meanwhile, things are stripped back to just Llewellyn’s voice and a cello, while ‘messen #7’, ‘hurtle’ and ‘zilch’ are inquisitive and jam-like acoustic guitar instrumentals.

Despite caroline having eight members, there’s far less clutter here than heard on many albums with fewer members; every instrument that joins the party on any given song does so for a reason, and the part it plays is meticulously thought through. That they manage to maintain a sense of spontaneity and freedom in the sound when every tiny element is considered so deeply like this is a real feat.

On ‘Skydiving onto the library roof’, two swelling notes are repeated by guitars and strings across more than seven minutes, while jazz drums, squeals of another guitar and more unidentifiable sounds flutter around in the background. Elsewhere, single ‘Good morning (red)’ is the most instantly accessible song on offer, filled with warm, sweeping strings and melodic guitar lines. Expansive closer ‘Natural death’ then points to the future, with its eight-and-a-half minutes serving as the end – for now – of the band’s journey from rigid structures and traditional methods to something utterly limitless.

“It’s not leaking, it’s flooding,” Llewellyn repeats at its half-way mark, while his seven bandmates echo his words with an untamed avalanche of instrumentation that crashes back and forth, in and out of the mix. caroline’s masterpiece might be yet to come, but this formative debut album opens up a world of possibilities.



Release date: February 25
Record label: Rough Trade

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