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Family Of Strangers
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Caviar
September 2004


Caviar was born out of the partnership of lead vocalist/guitarist Blake Smith and bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Mike Willison, also the band's songwriters—and friends since childhood. Following several early projects together, Smith headed for Europe, spending a good deal of time in the U.K. "I got excited by electronica, and all the great British pop in London," he remembers. "It was fun to see a band like Blur straddle a lot of styles—loops and samples in one song, straight up guitar in the next—and still sound like themselves."

That dynamic is the cornerstone of Caviar, whose self-titled debut on Island came out in late 2000, with drummer Jason Batchko as part of the line-up. Beyond Windy City roots, Smith and Batchko shared a mutual appreciation for orchestral synth-pop rockers New Order--Blake had found Jason when he was playing for the cover band Power, Corruption, and Guys. "I thought he was great right away," says Smith. "He could do things other drummers just couldn't. He’s like a cross between a Roland 808 drum machine and Keith Moon."

Allmusic.com called Caviar a "a glossy, hard-to-resist debut ... Midwestern power pop that's just as intent on being sexy…irresistible radio-friendly glam-inspired tunes." Launch's review added that the album, "will have you bopping your head and humming along like a drooling idiot." Critical acclaim, and music featured on Buffy The Vampire Slayer notwithstanding, things didn't gel for Caviar. In a bio from that time, Blake wrote, "Because we are the first band ever to get a raw deal from the record industry, we decided it would be smart to take time off and reflect."

After creative refueling, the bowed but not broken Caviar made a new album wholly on their own, driven by a desire to counteract the preponderance of gloomy music on the airwaves. A kid who related to certain songs by the Beatles and Kinks as if they were great children's stories, Blake comments, "Growing up, I wanted to party, meet girls, and drive around really fast, not sit in my room and wallow in self-pity." Smith concentrated on writing until he felt there was enough good material for an entire record, often looking to the weather, an abundant commodity in Chicago, for inspiration. "Hey, a nice day might come along, and I'd write five tunes that were happy, and then I wouldn’t do anything for the rest of the month," he explains.

Caviar brought the songs to life with wild abandon, and the result, which ultimately became The Thin Mercury Sound, is an exhilarating collection of fifteen multi-flavored tracks. Smith informs his work with a torrent of ideas, and then inextricably weaves lyrical aplomb into his love of musical heterogeneity. That, along with Caviar's bravura playing, shines on the self-produced disc, which began drawing attention on specialty radio shows, leading to their signing with Aezra .

The Thin Mercury Sound's lead single, the high-spirited "On The Down Low," is a "Beck high-fives Weezer train wreck." Other stand-out tracks include the U2-spiced opener "Aloha," the Lou Reed-inflected "Clean Getaway," the Coldplay-meets Echo & The Bunnymen-like "Lioness," and the lap-top symphony of "Tiny Cannibal Bites." Another highlight is the soulful "Hey Let Go," which Smith composed after hearing a rumor that John Hughes was coming out of retirement. All of Hughes' hit films, including Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Sixteen Candles, were filmed in the Chicago suburbs where Smith grew up, and he and his friends would rush to see them to spot people they knew as extras, and places they hung out as locations. "Hey Let Go" was the song I wrote to submit for the soundtrack if he ever made another movie," says Blake.

Maybe that day will come, and for now, comparisons to other artists aside, Caviar is coming into its own in the broader musical universe with The Thin Mercury Sound. On their Aezra/EMI debut, more than anyone else, Caviar sound like themselves, full of adventurous spirit, pumped-up guitars, and powerful songcraft.




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