The problem when you’ve built a career out of making sparky, characterful alternative pop, brimming with cheeky winks and a playful approach to art, is that sometimes the world puts a spanner in the works. When you’re loving life, the idea of solely wearing bright red in all public engagements (As Rose has done until this point) might seem like an appealing way to concoct a recognisable identity. When you’re in the throes of heartache and staring into the abyss of where to musically tread next, however, you probably just can’t be arsed.
It’s a head-scratcher of a conundrum that New York’s Caroline Rose evidently faced heading into ‘The Art of Forgetting’: a fairly stark departure from the effervescent wit that made their name and an album that, instead, sees the musician looking inwards and trying to pick up the pieces. There are still moments of levity; a series of crackly voice notes from her grandmother are a warm and tender way to break up an album weighed down by a break up of its own. But for the most part, Rose’s fourth LP is one born from the confused fug of misery. ‘Everywhere I Go I Bring The Rain’, ‘The Doldrums’, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ – it doesn’t take a therapist to decode what’s going on here.
The record begins with a yearning for change. Twinkling Spanish guitars cradle the singer’s hushed list of everything they’re not on opener ‘Love/ Lover/ Friend’, whilst ‘Rebirth’ might sound like a positive sentiment but comes written from the craggy depths of the moment before it might occur: “Watch me as I wander the road / Asking directions back into mother’s womb”. Previous single ‘Miami’ is deceptive in its nostalgic chord progressions and widescreen burst of a chorus – listen a little closer and Rose’s memories of slow and “subtle rejections” will make you want to wrap them up in a bear hug – whilst the harp flutter of ‘The Doldrums’ is an equally pretty ruse that culminates in a series of existential questions about the meaning of anything.
It’s a duality that’s frequent across ‘The Art of Forgetting’. Sure, by Caroline Rose’s standards, this is a pretty bleak album, but line it up next to your standard depressed American singer-songwriter and you could be listening to a record about the joys of spring. ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ is a sweet torch song underscored by sepia-tinged sentimentality, while ‘Tell Me What You Want’ uses the sounds of a recorded note-to-self on a cassette player to note its inner mantras. By the end of the album, all this wrangling and reckoning even seems to have paid off, with a trio of songs that steel themself for the future. ‘Jill Says’ (named for Rose’s IRL therapist) finds a balance amongst the internal monologue, whilst the gentle bounce of ‘Love Song For Myself’ is the closest to the witty Rose of old: “If I am a doormat / Then I am handwoven / I am exceptional”.
‘The Art of Forgetting’, then, is a true journey of an album. It’s less immediate and attention-grabbing than the musician’s previous endeavours – a record that demands repeat and deeper listens to make its point – but it’s one whose point is worth taking the time to understand. Perhaps the art is not in forgetting, but just in getting to the next chapter.