Album Review: Lemon Boy by Cavetown

by michaela barton (@lowkeypigeon)                    rating 7                                     

Imagine an indie-film directed by Zach Braff about a quirky awkward young man trying to find his manic pixie dream girl. Lemon Boy by Cavetown is that film’s soundtrack.

Lemon Boy is written, performed and mixed by Robin Skinner, with a few accompanying musicians on certain tracks. Robin’s voice styling is similar to High Highs or Radical Face, and the album’s musicality reminiscent of early Owl City, Stornoway or Bon Iver. When describing his sound on the website, Robin says “I have no clue what my genre should be considered as, and I’d love to never find out.” In general, Cavetown’s sound is sweet. Calming, easy Sunday evening listening exploring topics of unrequited love, shyness, anxiety, wanting to be cool, existential dread with your cereal, and a dead lizard…. I think?

The title track Lemon Boy has the recognisable “quirky sound” that continues throughout the album, using interesting chords that avoid the usual easy cliché progressions that musicians often adopt, especially in their early days. The use of electronic distortion paired with acoustic instruments adds extra flavours that prevent blandness or vanilla stylings that many pop-folk musicians serve. The growing distortion also supports the story behind the lyrics. Lemon Boy is about anxieties and negativity seeping into life before eventually becoming an old reliable friend. “Lemon Boy and me started to get along together / I helped him plant his seeds and we’d mow the lawn in bad weather / It’s actually pretty easy being nice to a bitter boy like him / So I got myself a citrus friend” describes how easy it is to surrender to this way of negative thinking and how doing so only helps it grow and spread until fully formed in the mind, almost like a whole separate being you just can’t seem to shake.

Green is a beautifully intimate and affectionate song. It’s a love letter for a past love, except without the possessiveness that so many songs that tackle this topic exude. The song isn’t about saying “we belong together, your decision to leave was wrong and you must come back this instant” it’s about saying, “you are amazing, I hope you love yourself and you deserve to be happy”. The song admits that when they were together, he did not treat her right, he was “too young to understand” and he “never stopped feeling guilty”. This song isn’t a plea to come back, it’s just an apology. The chorus tells that she has moved on – “you look so good with him” – but he’s not snide about it, he just says “I’m proud of you still”. There’s no bitterness or resentment and it’s wholly refreshing. The delicate overlay of Robin’s voice accompanied by soft guitar and ukulele picking with distant piano in the background creates a lovely blanket of intimate sound, which compliments the lyrical story so well.

Some issues with the album are that a lot of songs seem to have been written a while ago (i.e. in that dreaded angsty teenage stage) so lyrics can often seem a little naïve, focussing on young unrequited love like in songs It’s U and Fool. This means the album can sometimes feel like you’re listening to a reading of a teenage boy’s diary entry, and really who the hell wants to do that. However, if you’re able to ignore the occasional “oh woe be me and my bleeding heart” element, there are more tracks that stand out than not.

Cavetown’s strength and maturity shine through in songs like Poison which, like Lemon Boy, also explores anxiety in a very real and personal way, describing the irrational thoughts that race through the mind. It’s short, but the intimacy is brilliant. I’ll Make Cereal is another that explores anxiety and existential thoughts while also pairing with the humdrum image of having breakfast in the morning, which serves as a great juxtaposition between the chaos of the mind and the normal, mundane cycles of life.

Being fairly young at 19 years old, and already having mastered enough talent to independently produce a professional sounding album is certainly impressive and shouldn’t be underestimated. Instrumentals such as those in 10 Feet Tall are lovely, displaying strong composing skills. The maturity of sound mixing combats the slight immaturity of some lyrics and it’s this which shows promise for Cavetown. Topics of storytelling will hopefully evolve past the young hopeless romantic stage and then Robin’s shrewd eye for intimate detail, engaging images, and lyrical construction will hopefully shine through.

Robin Skinner says on his website that he “wants to make music forever”, and with the talent demonstrated so far, that could certainly be a pleasant possibility.

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michaelabarton

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