Live Review: caroline at The White Hotel, Salford (08/10/21)

As I wonder how long I’ll be the only bystander at The White Hotel, a group of speedo wearing meatheads join me. Well, figuratively anyway. These are the men from a bodybuilding magazine, who’s shadows now arrest my sides. The periodical lay, displayed on the half hidden projector behind the stage, smudgy fingers obscuring the pages as they were turned. With hairstyles looking like shaggy carpets, the men stood proud. I imagine this magazine was a charity shop find, probably in the 30p bucket. Chairs fill the space in front – a stage which caroline have apparently abandoned, most likely due to their love of unnatural acoustics (made evident by their videos recorded in swimming pools, and a rather spectacular soundscape, made entirely using mobile phone sound recorders). Instead they opt to arrange their instruments in a magic circle mid audience, as if about to perform a ritual. 

What we got wasn’t far off. Adhering to some unwritten rules, the audience took their places, some cross legged on the floor, some on the stage, others standing in a trance, hitting the solitary cymbal placed far away from the drum kit. If not in trench coats and suit jackets, they’re adorned in Talk Talk and Brian Eno t-shirts, and it feels really quite formal. As was caroline’s non dramatic entrance.

The sound is unconventional from the word go, their instrument placements putting a heavy dominance on the low end. Something that suits the moody quality of the few tracks the band play tonight. The helical riffs circulating round their opener, ‘dark blue’ sound even more like someone distant’s sombre memories now, and left quite the taste in all of our mouths, leaving a good 10 seconds before an applause could ring out. Even the band seemed paralyzed in their own groove after playing the intertwining riff for long enough. All besides Oliver Hamilton anyway, who was contorting his head in spheres. Different genres meld on caroline’s pallet as the set moves forward, often taking a leaf out of the post rock and classical music handbook, but the unspoken of sways of emo music are coming further forward in their approach. When the occasional lyric turns up in caroline’s music, they are as hard hitting as the instrumental mountains that are built around it. ‘Skydiving On The Library Roof’ is enough to make a grown man cry with 4 lines alone. ‘I’m starting to think when I tell everyone, of leaving and getting away, that what I’m really saying to them and through them, is that I just want them to stay’. The drum fills are notably cathartic, the violin and cello refrains marry each other before divorcing, cello and flute lines mourn in response, and everything is really too beautiful for words. Stopping and starting in broken loops, the only noise between the band and the audience is a set of tickly coughs (from that dreaded flu thing everyone and their gran has right now) and a dog barking outside. The delay of all of these sounds through the cracks in the venue seemed too good to be unplanend.

It’s their first outing in Manchester as a band, despite some of the group having studied and played in side projects there. One of the group’s guitarists (and vocalists), Caspar Hughes, murmurs a few comments about this in a sole engagement between band and audience. Although I wish we’d heard more about their experiences, some unreleased tracks answer the questions for themselves. An intriguing juxtaposition is shown on one, where the band play their most major sounding instrumental, yet shout some inaudible vocals in complete anguish atop of it. On another, some musical gymnastics are played out. Guitars smash into each other, violins and cellos barter, queralling drum fills join, interlocking a set of patterns that merge into a panoramic dissonance. Something that really changed the fabric of the room. A broad irishman is outside when I leave. He shouts to me from afar. ‘Anee ‘ood?’. I modestly nod, a little lost for words.