The Cave Singers have a compelling vocalist in Pete Quirk, whose voice is tensile and un-pretty, a bit yelpy, with a bit of fire-and-brimstone preacher in it (a la the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano or Born Ruffians' Luke Lalonde). They put out a career-best record in 2011 with the haunting No Witch, but Naomi finds the band back on safer, sunnier ground.
Some of the sparer, more plaintive songs here work best, like the percussion-less "Evergreens," a sad little song about looking back on a lost love. Even some of the up-tempo songs contain some spark, like the herky-jerky "Have to Pretend," where Quirk's voice is charged with desire. It might the closest this band gets to being sexy.
But too many of the songs here fall into a perfectly inoffensive but tepid middle ground, from the annoyingly sunny "No Tomorrows" to the jazzy "Northern Lights." "Shine" reproduces almost the exact effect as "Have to Pretend," without the urgency.
The problem with the version of the Cave Singers showcased on Naomi is that they always seem to be half a step away from channeling the sound of some other, better band. With a bit more squelch they could be a folkier version of the Replacements; add a little baroque orchestration and more literate lyrics and they could be a stripped-down Decemberists. The Cave Singers are by no means bad, but on Naomi they're kind of boring.