The Cave-Ins (Luke Top and Matt Popieluch) met in late 1998, when both were attending classes at San Francisco State University. Their mutual musical interests soon led to playing music together (they reportedly used to rehearse in the stairwell of their college dorm building because it had a nice natural reverb). The co-leaders of this San Francisco-based group began recording on four-track and eight-track tape machines and released a 7" single -- co-released by the Sacramento, CA-based Omnibus label and Visalian Records (run by fellow SFSU student Matt Johnson) -- before expanding to a quartet with the inclusion of bassist Rob Williams (ex-Delta Song) and drummer Scott Eberhard. In July 2001, the band added Jason Quever (who is also in the Papercuts) on organ and harmonies, taking over the position once held by sometime Cave-Ins organist Lewis Pesacov (Disparity Shacks). Their first full-length, Gridfarce by Lamplight, is a nice collection of organic, somewhat downcast American indie rock, similar -- at least in spirit if not execution -- to countrified indie groups like Beachwood Sparks and the Idaho Falls. This debut effort is filled to the brim with inviting sounds: a pinch of twangy guitar, brittle banjo, fractured vocal harmonies, and feeble keyboards, along with simplistic jazz chords and jazzy drumbeats. Some critics and pundits might find themselves tempted to label the album Americana triple-A roots rock, or even country-rock, but Gridfarce defies most descriptions tied to strict, and somewhat unfeeling, U.S. radio formats. The songs found here are mostly stolid and unstructured, but lovingly arranged. Top and Popieluch sound like they're singing together, their amiable voices drifting along like they're carried aloft on a breeze after being sung out of the window from two separate rooms. Apparently this was not the case: Popieluch laid down his vocals and instrumental parts first -- heading off for a semester abroad in Italy in February 2001 -- and Top recorded his afterwards. Despite the languid and loose vibe, there are a few upbeat numbers. "Timeshares (On a Hill)" begins with a plaintive Appalachian banjo plucking away before finding its way toward a Kinks-style pop melody, while "Bring It Down" is a country warble with a faintly lysergic '60s feel. A melancholy, simply plucked banjo returns for the album closer, "On Lovers Bank," a loping wagon wheel reverie that picks up a xylophone riff along its dusty trail. After the release of this album, the band changed its name to the Ceramic Isles to avoid being confused with Cave-In.
AllMusic Review by Bryan Thomas