“Suck it up princess, this ain’t a lecture on the big bad world by the big bad wolf.”
– Caracal, “Disaster Affinity”, Welcome the Ironists
The line above, from Caracal’s Disaster Affinity, summed up many different emotions and opinions; angst, anger, and brutal honesty. Flipping a fairy tale scenario on its head, where reality juxtaposes an ideal, was always going to be bold and brash move. To me, it was captivating, and from that moment, I was engrossed with the album, Welcome the Ironists. Naturally, my reaction was to share this line with everyone I cared about, to spread this moment of lyrical genius from brooding Singaporean rockers, Caracal.
Obviously, my girlfriend saw things differently. Or at least in hindsight, I should have sent her the lyrics in quotation marks.
Misinterpretation aside, the fact of the matter remains that honesty is a hard commodity to come by. As someone who writes plays in his free time, I can attest that it is much easier to romanticise and sugar-coat words and ideas, because it is more palatable. It is comforting to hear and watch things of empowerment – it is in our nature to search for the uplifting and the happy endings, to write about the achievements rather than the tragedies. A mentor of mine once told me, you have to earn the moments and emotions, and earn the audience’s approval to sympathise or empathise with what you’re trying to portray, and that the audience just wants to be experience happiness and forget the sadness, maybe if just for a moment. In essence, it’s easier to earn happy, “aww” moments rather than sad, reflective ones.
But, that’s isn’t reality. The uncomfortable truth is, people will fail you, people will betray you, and moments of sadness surround us constantly. And sometimes, the discomfort of brutal honesty is in itself, comforting. Welcome the Ironists epitomises this.
“A heart as big as any ocean, a fervour mightier than fire, until I find the words please let me love you. You’re the grace that never withers, making saints look like sinners, I will carry you to the end of my days”
– Caracal, “Given Breath”, Welcome the Ironists.
Take for instance, Given Breath. Largely instrumental, the cacophony of guitar licks and bass lines distort and confound, drowning out the desperate plea of the vocals. It’s haunting, and unwelcoming, but it makes sense. Given Breath depicts how the desire to prove yourself and to prove your worth gets drowned out by white noise. Distortion becomes relatable, and the fact that a song portrays a real-life scenario that plays out almost daily is, to some extent, mitigating.
This same thread can be found in the anthem-like title track Welcome the Ironists. The lyrics resemble a plea in a confessional, trying to find a way to resolve the tension between existing as a member of society and living as the person you want to be. The music video, set in an abandoned hospital in Woodlands, depicts patients trying to escape the cage of the hospital. Following this vein, Welcome the Ironists considers the perceived disease of being different, and how the antidote is accepting this plague rather than conforming. It highlights a sense of personal struggle and disenchantment, dangerous territories for music to wash ashore, but Caracal tackles these themes with careful hands, giving these struggles time to breathe. It goes back to the idea of earning these moments; if done prematurely or sloppily, it comes across as immature, shallow, first world problems. But if you look at the struggles Caracal has faced, as one of the main tenets propping up the local music scene for the longest time, and the way Welcome the Ironists flows in distortion, you can’t help but feel like these guys have earned their moments.
Here’s the bottom line; we need more distortion in our lives. We need an antithesis to the complicated, polished, experimental melodies that grip the scene. This isn’t a diss on the industry, far from it. The development of local music scene is the most encouraging signs of a growing cultural scene here that, as young people, we can actually subscribe to.
Caracal’s a reality check, a palette cleanser of uncomplicated emotions and opinions. This isn’t to say that Welcome the Ironists is a one-dimensional, angsty album, with generic heavy breakdowns and recycled melodies. Rather, Welcome the Ironists is more like a cubist puzzle, and which each listen you tend to find something different to appreciate, something new to marvel at. Though it’s more than 2 years old, Welcome the Ironists is not one of those albums stuck in time, still feels like a refreshing alternative.
Maybe the issues surrounding the hiatus are too complex to negotiate around. Maybe the headways the members of the band are making in their respective industries have turned Caracal into a project they can no longer afford. But, if it’s all possible, Caracal, please come back, because the best of us need you.