Caitlin Rose is used to inhabiting the in-between. The Nashville singer-songwriter’s music thrives in the amorphous space between country and indie rock. She is more famous than your average Bluebird Café troubadour but somewhere short of prestige Americana superstardom. To describe her work as pop-rock would be too broad, roots-rock too reductive, alt-country an outright misnomer. Plus, for most of the past decade she was between releases, having followed her attention-grabbing 2010 debut Own Side Now and her well-received 2013 sophomore release The Stand-In with a whole lot of nothing.
Yet Rose’s songs are anything but fuzzy and undefined. She’s one of the sharpest songwriters in her scene, routinely penning head-turning lyrics and affixing them to melodies that leap from the speakers. Rose wields plain language deftly, in a way that mirrors the nuanced directness of her song structures. Her soft, erudite Texas drawl brims with an ever-shifting mix of aching vulnerability and ass-kicking resolve: “I’m gonna light your fire/ Burn your little world down/ I’m gonna make you sorry somehow.” On CAZIMI, her first album in nearly a decade, her songs are more vividly rendered than ever thanks to a band of Nashville stalwarts who know just how to bring Rose’s music to life.
Why was she gone so long? In interviews and promo materials, Rose has talked about her exceptionally slow writing process, about cynicism and self-doubt, and about endless career roadblocks — not least of all the global pandemic that set in the month after the recorded CAZIMI. But she’s also spoken about how Jordan Lehning, who co-produced the album with her, helped challenge and rejuvenate her as a songwriter, and about how she’s shaken off her self-imposed restrictions about what a Caitlin Rose album can be. With that in mind, it’s perhaps no coincidence that both of the main co-writers and producers who worked on the last two Kacey Musgraves albums have roles here: Daniel Tashian co-wrote the ornately swelling pop-rocker “Nobody’s Sweetheart,” while Ian Fitchuk is among several drummers in the credits.
But if CAZIMI is less expressly rootsy that Rose’s past records, it’s hardly a pivot into Golden Hour-style reverie. These songs are too punchy to justify that comparison. The lead guitar work is consistently ripping. The drums tumble with arena-rock bombast on highlights like the Courtney Marie Andrews duet “Getting It Right” and the pulsing, surging closer “Only Lies.” The songs are strewn with smartly deployed bursts of fresh sound and texture — a cello, oscillating keyboards, surf-rock guitar, or whatever the arrangement demands. CAZIMI’s Technicolor swirl reminds me of ’90s Wilco, back when Tweedy and Bennett were writing either the poppiest rock songs or the rockingest pop songs and lacing them with a mix of sweeping strings and weeping pedal steel. I hear some Sheryl Crow and Aimee Mann in there too. Or given the fierce beauty of Rose’s post-Patsy Cline vocals, maybe this is what an album of Neko Case songs would sound like if produced by her New Pornographers bandmate A.C. Newman.
CAZIMI is named for an astrology term related to (depending on your source) good luck, elevated strength, and bracing clarity. The last of those characteristics comes across most in Rose’s lyrics. Even songs about self-destructive weakness — like lead single “Black Obsidian,” a lightly scathing portrait of Rose and the asshole she can’t resist returning to — are sung with lucid self-awareness, full of ear-perking lines like “The way you stare across the room, you know, it could turn a person into stone.” Opener “Carried Away” treads similar territory: “You’ve got your reason to stay, I’ve got mine too/ We’re only running away from something new.” On the jaunty “Modern Dancing,” Rose flashes a familiar skepticism, but not enough to keep her from throwing herself into another doomed romance. “Baby it makes no difference to me/ You’ve been the same throughout history,” she sings, before dropping another of CAZIMI’s most memorable bars: “It’s a different face, but it’s always the same set of eyes.”
Some lyrics recur throughout the album, phrases “nobody’s sweetheart” and “nobody’s fool” sounding defiant at one point then defeated later on. Yet if CAZIMI’s songs are interconnected, it doesn’t really play like a concept album. Each song is a standalone marvel unto itself, another example of Rose’s master craftsmanship to add to the pile. Again and again, amidst all that gorgeous musicality, she puts a fine point on messy scenarios and sketches out realistic portraits of characters in transition. She knows as well as anyone what it feels to be caught somewhere in between.
CAZIMI is out 11/18 via Missing Piece.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Weyes Blood’s And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
• Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s WORLD RECORD
• Brockhampton’s final album The Family
• Chat Pile’s Tenkiller Motion Picture Soundtrack
• Black Midi’s live album Live Fire
• Gladie’s Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out
• Fousheé’s softCORE
• Animal Collective’s The Inspection Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
• Colin Stetson’s The Menu (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
• Röyksopp’s Profound Mysteries III
• Daniel Bachman’s Almanac Behind
• Thaiboy Digital’s Back 2 Life
• Isomonstrosity’s Isomonstrosity
• Gatherers’ ( mutilator. )
• Billy Strings’ Me/And/Dad
• Soulside’s reunion album A Brief Moment In The Sun
• Richard Dawson’s The Ruby Cord
• Honey Dijon’s Black Girl Magic
• Pole’s Tempus
• The Wombats’ Is This What It Feels Like To Feel Like This?
• Candlemass’ Sweet Evil Sun
• ENHYPEN’s Sadame
• Adrian Quesada’s Jaguar Sound
• -(16)-‘s Into Dust!
• Lowlife’s Payday
• Infall’s Far
• Smirk’s Material
• Disturbed’s Divisive
• Nickelback’s Get Rollin’
• The Spirited Original Motion Picture Soundtrack featuring Ryan Reynolds, Will Ferrell, Octavia Spencer, and others
• Panda Bear & Sonic Boom’s Reset (Expanded Edition)
• David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream companion album
• KISS’ Creatures Of The Night 40 deluxe edition
• Los Bitchos’ Let The Festivities Begin (Los Chrismos Edition)
• Weeping Icon’s Ocelli EP
• Hit Like A Girl’s Becoming EP
• Pendant’s Caustic Pop Remixes EP
• Sneaks’ The Eva EP
• Squint’s Wash Away EP
• Maria BC’s Hyaline Remixes EP