November 17, 2020

Cave Dweller is NOT the British Metal band from County Durham. This Cave Dweller is a solo project from one half of the American ‘post-industrial’ band Pando, a duo comprising Adam Bryant and Matt Gagne. Cave Dweller is a solo project of Adam’s running in parallel with ongoing Pando work. Pando are notoriously reticent about themselves, the duo reveal little information about themselves, with the date of their formation, instruments and similar information rarely being made public.

Pando’s music is has been described on Wikipedia as a mixture of dark ambient, black metal , experimental and noise that creates “the atmosphere of a horror film soundtrack”. Conceptually, the duo arranges “field recordings, voice messages and manipulated sounds from their lives as well as conversations with family and friends.” The music arranges programmed rhythms and instruments such as acoustic guitar , bass guitar or harmonica in sound surfaces that are generated with samples and synthesizers . The sporadic mostly spoken vocals are presented as guttural growling or as clear vocals. In addition, guest musicians are repeatedly involved who contribute additional elements to the sound

Cue this side project…Cave Dweller. On the face of it, not a lot different from Pando, being defined as dark folk, neo-folk (neofolk also being known as apocalyptic folk, described as being a form of experimental music blending elements of folk and industrial music, which emerged in punk rock circles in the 1980s. It may either be solely acoustic or combine acoustic folk instrumentation with various other sounds. So there you have it.

But who is, or was, Walter Goodman?! – without any further clues from Cave Dweller, Walter could be either an English painter, illustrator and writer; a Barbadian cricketer; or an Ameriocan author and journalist who worked for The New York Times as the newspaper’s television critic concentrating on the mediums news and documentaries. His book The Committee (1968) chronicled the (US House of Representatives) “House Un-American Activities Committee”, who between 1938 and 1975 investigated “alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and those organizations suspected of having fascist or communist ties”. One assumes this album concerns this last gent, but I have not found anything suggesting Goodman’s alter ego was The Wildman of the Woods etc…..and he died at home. Ho hum.

This album seems to be a very personal and introspective piece of work, it’s described as an experiment in music and poetry that explores and touches on themes of loneliness and dealing with mental illness. Cave Dweller himself is said to be inspired by the blessings of our immediate and powerful nature around us which reflect the dualities of the human experience – brutality amidst frailty, nature providing both beauty and isolation. For the album, each track has been recorded and mixed differently, using multiple mediums and techniques, including simple smartphone tracking, digital and analog tape recording methods, and field recordings at places of personal importance.

Adam took the album cover photograph, he also recorded, mixed and mastered the album, so it is a truly self-produced work

And so to the actual music! Without the benefit of the lyrics, it is sometimes difficult to follow storylines, but I do find the album surprisingly accessible, which seems somehow ironic! A lot of the sound effects are clearly intended to recreate nature “in the raw” and I found this generally creates a slow-moving, pastoral, ambient sound – not unlike early Pink Floyd. It does capture that sense of being simultaneously ‘peaceful but threatening’ that woods can possess, that sense of total loneliness deep in the forest whilst twitchily listening for wildlife or other things….

Ancestor is first, a gentle acoustic strumming number with semi-spoken vocals that keep reminding me of the actor Mark Rylance in some sort of Elizabethan reverie! As the track proceeds, electronic disturbances start to lurk in the background, sort of setting the isolated cabin theme. That same sense of foreboding/not being alone increases in Why He Kept The Car Running, with a slowly building white-noise rock baseline, accompanied by background Black Metal screams before switching to a gentle, pastoral calm underpinned with the sound of crickets and the occasional owl.

The Call continues this gently strummed, softly sung mantra, it reminds me hugely of a raft of experimental 60’s stuff – very like the folkier numbers on Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, complete with crackles and pops as per my worn-out vinyl! I believe the song is a lament for a dead lover, Josephine, but its not clear who the singer is at this point. The next song is The Death of Walter, so as I say, without the full package of lyrics much of the concept is I suspect lost on me. The song itself uses spoken words akin to a diary entry, set to an electric harmonium, a dark event taking place, perhaps the Cabin being engulfed in a fiery inferno that lights the ghostly forest around. It has an air of Irish/Celtic funeral dirge before bleeding through into Where Trees Whisper, another darkly threatening track massively reminiscent of the Twin Peaks theme, drums gently but edgily beating in the background, echo-ey guitar and ethereal voices, presumably the spirits of the departed in another dirge.

Upon These Tracks features another spoken diary entry, sound effects conjuring a ghostly train echoing along the said tracks. I like the overall feel of the story here. The Secret Self is next, the singer expressing his fears, his loneliness, a sense of almost native American chants in the background. The track revolves around an acoustic riff, fading into electronic background noise again.

Your Feral Teeth is a great title for a song, which is oddly chirpy after the previous stream. Maybe this is the traveller at peace with himself in the forest, it’s a beautifully played piece of acoustic guitar supported by another ‘indigenous-sounding’ rhythm. The penultimate track Bliss features more surprisingly gentle and very talented acoustic work, dubbed with two guitars balancing each other against the sound of the sea – has the traveller left the (metaphysical?) forest at this point on his way home? The album concludes with The Return, a sparsely played piano picking out notes, whispered thoughts floating above the sound of rain. Presumably this is the narrator dwelling on his ‘wilds’ experience, now safely ensconced back in his city pad – before background forest rhythms come back (to haunt him?)

To conclude – I’ve actually enjoyed listening to this album, it has an overall sensual ambience that genuinely sweeps you into the dark of the forest with a host of understated, nicely done effects and beautiful acoustic guitar plus ambient riffs and rhythms. In turns reminiscent of early Floyd, and also the 80’s album Painbirds by a band called Sparklehorse….but I would have enjoyed it so much more, got so much more out of it and helped you, dear listener, so much more if the lyrics had been supplied! Sadly, it’s an increasing trend these days….

So we’re still left with the question: “Just who the **** is Walter Goodman?”!