December 24th, 2022 – 9:00 AM
A valiant effort in need of slight seasoning
What a great title. Being caught doing something implies that what you are doing is shameful. Have we gotten to the point where trying is frowned upon? Claire Wellin, the frontwoman of this layered folk project, is trying to work through her anger and turn it into something productive. It’s a commendable effort, with lovely instrumentals and lyrics aimed at nurturing and naturing. However, a couple songs and conceptual ideas needed more development to push it to the next level.
On her Bandcamp, Wellin labels Youth in a Roman Field as ‘ghost folk,’ which fits how melodies materialize out of the ether. It just feels effortless how guitars and violins pluck to life from the opening of “Madison” to the end of the title track, though the vibraphone and piano accents on “If It’s Over” deserve attention as well. The music hits the sweet spot between lush and intimate, full of aching emotion in the strings yet grounded by simple percussion and strumming. Though the vocal arrangements are not as flashy as they could be, the background humming of “Nightswims” and “Mama” is still gorgeous.
It’s a shame that, while the sound quality is impeccable, some tracks are too content to drag their feet. “Bright Green on the Path” is the most dynamic song on the record. Claire’s more restrained vocals and lonely plucks are slowly joined with other sounds like the pianos and violins to gorgeous effect. It’s a shame it’s stuck between the album’s two most stagnant songs, “If It’s Over” and “Albatross.” The former would be great if it did not end with two minutes of expendable fluff. The latter does not feature any exceptional moments to justify its five-minute run time.
Despite the compositional shortcomings, both songs deliver on the lyrical front. Claire asks herself tough questions, so the moments where she forgives herself and comes to powerful revelations feel earned from a process of introspection and not self-serving naval gazing. “If It’s Over” wonders if it’s possible to ever be truly finished with a relationship and what she’s actually over with. “Albatross” questions her abilities and ultimately proclaims, “Don’t think I’ve wasted my time / Was just slow to realize what was and wasn’t mine.” The title track is an ode to women who came before and how they broke through the myths of worthlessness. At the same time, she realizes how she can take inspiration from people like her mother but ultimately cannot rely on them. This moment of clear purpose works perfectly with the final words, “Can’t be saved by you / But she wouldn’t want me to / My mama, my life / My mama, my light.
Artists take inspiration from bizarre sources but claiming that Kendrick Lamar inspired the album’s three acapella interludes is brazen. Each is recorded on gradually more advanced tech, starting with an iPhone and ending with an actual studio mic. The technique worked for Lamar because To Pimp a Butterfly, the record she’s likely referencing, was epic in scope and ended with that beautiful interview with Tupac. Get Caught Trying is not on that level of ambition. Other songs, like the title track, already effectively handle themes of generational struggle and pay tribute to the women who influenced her while still blazing a trail for herself. At least “Mama” works perfectly to close the record as it washes over with pleasant humming and strings. It is a final moment of nourishment that says far more than the three interludes before it.
There is a lot to like on Get Caught Trying, which makes the slight missteps all the more frustrating. More compositional development and refining the interludes would have launched this into excellency. As it stands, the gorgeous ghost folk music and challenging writing deserve plenty of accolades.
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