Caro: The Return of Caro

One-time Madison, Wisconsin native and current Seattle resident, Caro (Randy Jones) follows up two Orac singles with his first full-length and it's a good one. The album finds Jones fusing an advanced programming sensibility (he helped create the audiovisual software Jitter for Cycling '74) with his love of dance music, resulting in a fresh hybrid that's both abstract and accessible. Consider the closer a compelling case in point, as “My Little Castle” merges atonal minimalism with bleeding acid synths and a strutting techno pulse; “Heavy Wheel” likewise interweaves dramatic piano themes with staccato synth burble and languid shimmy while “Sea of Hands” offers a slightly more dissonant take on Caro's soulful sound.

Jones brings a thoroughly contemporary sensibility to the album's eight tracks but also unashamedly embraces the styles of earlier eras, even disco. Emerging from abstract squelches and an anchoring bass line, the opener “Ah, Ah, Ah,” for example, gradually comes into focus as a piano-driven, disco-funk workout powered by a crisp drum punch. While the salsa-flavoured “OVNIto” proves Jones' command when venturing further afield, the synth-jittery pumper “We Can Build It” shows Caro's penchant for intricate patterning. Though silken electronic washes nicely bring the song's melancholy core to the forefront, the interweave of lurching bass stabs, blurping squeals, and swizzle bursts that appears during the song's coda is even more memorable.

Some songs include vocals, most notably “Can't Tell Why” and “My Little Pony.” Though the former opens in Basic Channel mode, it quickly morphs into an irresistibly jacking track. Boosted by bemused shout-outs and squelchy acid synths, the track weaves a slithering skanky spell while spectral keyboards trade twilight solos. And sounding just as fresh as it did on its EP issue, “My Little Pony” unites all of Caro's strengths into a single song. Spurred by a buzzing, burbling bass line and clip-clops, Jones's distorted vocal oozes just the right amount of creepy sleaze in its helpless equine adoration. After the laughter subsides, one appreciates even more the track's marvelous and subtly radical take on techno-funk, and the cowbell episode at the end is pure genius. In fact, the song's humorous dimension is no accident given that a similar lighthearted exuberance reigns throughout. Caro's clearly serious about his music yet the album's mood is anything but portentous. Instead, The Return of Caro is not only musically delectable but buoyed by an irreverent spirit.

May 2005