Music Reviews

LONER by Caroline Rose

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This article previously appeared on Crossfader

Genre: Art Pop, Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Money,” “Jeannie Becomes A Mom,” “To Die Today,” “Soul No. 5,” “Bikini”

There’s one song on Caroline Rose’s 2014 debut, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID, that upended the album’s pleasant Americana disposition, a jerky and plotting bomb entitled “At Midnight.” Behind a twisted, building blues guitar and echoing vocals, the song represents a lingering explosion, both in its unique recording in comparison to the album at large, and from its literal spurts of bombasticity. The way Rose delivers the lyrics is just as deranged as the rest of the song, giving a performance of lunacy on an album devoid of it. I WILL NOT BE AFRAID is a good album. Maybe even a great one. But that dramatic, weird, combustible energy on “At Midnight,” the kind of energy that makes you turn the volume up a bit while you cock your head in wonderment, was missing.

That pleasant Americana disposition is nowhere to be found on Rose’s new album LONER, a total overhaul of her sound and a masterclass in expressiveness and capturing personality. The opener, “More Of The Same,” is anything but, a mid-tempo yet spirited organ-backed track that has more in common with Foxygen or the current wave of psych rock than it does the folk roots she’s left behind. With LONER’s first single, “Money,” we saw the tiny explosion that she built on “At Midnight” pushed to into the deepest confines of snarling indie rock and come out the otherside as a full scale motherfucker of a song, a full declaration that LONER is here to impose its will on us whether we wanted more folk music or not—a declaration made all the sweeter by its cover, featuring Rose in her all red Adidas tracksuit ready to take all comers. It’s not often that you see a complete reinvention so early into an artist’s career, but as demonstrated, Caroline Rose doesn’t seem like your typical 20-something artist, and she uses all 35 minutes of LONER to prove that.

Every song on LONER is fun. They’re each different and overflowing with personality. Rose’s vocals alone make each song expressive, but unlike on I WILL NOT BE AFRAID, where she at times was channeling Dolly Parton’s breathy excitement, here she delivers lines with a punchy swagger that results in something like Veruca Salt by way of Wanda Jackson. Rose’s vocal transformation alone would make LONER a wild listen, but she evolves from track to track. On “Bikini,” Rose does her best Mark Mothersbaugh impression on a song that musically matches that zaniness, and “Money” sees her staring down the barrel of a gun delivering marathon rhymes with surging intensity, but she can easily flip on the coolness for a sunglasses-indoors vibe on “Jeannie Becomes A Mom” or sweeten up the mix on the string plucking “Getting To Me.”

And the songs are remarkably diverse, propping up Rose as a character. She claims the album was “as much inspired by Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears as it was late ’70s punk,” and you can hear “Cry Me A River” in “Animal” as much as you hear The B-52s on “Soul No. 5.” So much of the album, from the organs to the guitars to even her vocal delivery, are staccato in their delivery and stab with satisfying intensity. Even woozier songs like the synthy purgatory of “To Die Today” or the aforementioned closer “Animal,” which relishes in delivering a big sounding conclusion, never feel out of place despite lacking the obvious pop presence that many of the other songs nail, anchored by both Rose and a cohesion that works more in spirit than it does simply musically—a rare and exciting attribute.

On the cover of LONER, Rose stares longingly off into the distance, her mouth filled with dozens of cigarettes, that red Adidas tracksuit and neck-draping workout towel both comically contradicting the unhealthiness of what she’s about to do. It’s a goofy cover, one that embraces that contradiction and frames Rose as an approachable and funny person you would naturally have questions about and want to talk to. LONER is a lot of what that conversation would be, presumably: bonkers, loose, and flamboyant, all to the point of blinding delight.

Verdict: Recommend

CJ Simonson
CJ Simonson is Merry-Go-Round's music editor. The only thing he knows for certain is that "I Can Feel The Fire" by Ronnie Wood is the greatest closing credits song never used in a Wes Anderson movie. Get on that, Wes.

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