by Kristin Kurens
Caroline Rose is onto the secret of success as a musician: never stop changing. Never stop experimenting. Never stop growing.
LONER, Rose’s sophomore release, is an exercise in revamping a sound and style. But it’s also more than that. It’s a peak inside her mind, a 34-minute whirlwind glimpse into an entire personality.
Sound impossible? Rose pulls it off, wearing signature red: track suits and jackets, pleated skirts, faux fur coats, headbands. It’s not about sex appeal; it’s about being a human and a woman in a sexist industry. It’s also having the freedom to be oneself.
After her debut album I Will Not Be Afraid hit in 2014, Rose felt something amiss. Her first release is good, firmly in alt-country, rockabilly, blues territory. But there’s little wiggle room; songs are twangy and catchy with a touch of kitsch. Rose was just 24 when she released it.
Videos of Rose from 2014 and 2015 are telling: she looks confined. It’s like we never got to see the full version of her, that she was hiding part of herself. Rose admits she used to hate making videos. It makes sense. If you aren’t comfortable with how your sound represents you, no video on the planet can rectify that.
So maybe it’s surprising, or not, that her style and sound would evolve. In her press release Rose addresses her transition in sound: “It just felt like a bubble inside me that had been growing and was about to pop.”
That bubble did pop, launching Rose into a pop-infused sensibility with hints of rockabilly roots. Ah, but there’s so much more there. While her debut album songs feel fun, LONER is fun, even when the topics aren’t so much: pregnancy, cheating, loneliness, misogyny, capitalism, and death.
We catch our first glimpse of her disillusion on “More of the Same.”
I'm never gonna figure it out, no I'm never gonna try again
If all it is, is just more of the same thing
So how did Rose make the leap from blues darling to pop freak? Cue the hint in the album title. If you feel like something isn’t right in your world, you have to take time to reflect and in order to move forward. It doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t like other people; it can simply be an exercise in learning how to like yourself and then how to express that.
From our perspective, Rose’s transition seems sudden and extreme from her debut, but this is an evolution two to three years in the making. In that time Rose experimented heavily with sounds and ideas. “Soul No. 5” is the fifth incarnation of a song she first wrote in 2015 and performed for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series.
The evolution of the song is clear. The 2015 version is flat. The album version feels liberated: it’s catchy and fun as Rose’s response to being catcalled and the absurdity of catcalling. It’s a timely rejoinder in the #metoo, clapback, stop-fucking-objectifying-me era.
You looking good mama how you doin?
You and me girl we have a really good time
But I like to hit 'em and quit 'em that's just my style
A common misconception is that loners are serious, hardened, and sad individuals. But as many a misfit knows, time alone can be expansive and emancipating. And for some artists it’s essential to growth.
Being alone means no need to pander to an audience, no need to wear a particular hat for the sake of someone else. It’s a moment when all aspects of your personality can shine. Your brain can flash between a million flickering thoughts and ideas, and the only connection may be you. Those alone moments can be satisfying and provocative. The id and the ego free to stretch and wander without being interrupted by any host of distractors, well intentioned or otherwise.
That’s not to say that being alone doesn’t have its trying moments. “Getting to Me” touches on the frustration of loneliness and being one of the regular singles who sits at the diner counter. Rose sings of the waitresses who can spot the “counter people” in an instant.
She knows us all by name
A counter people vision
Everywhere we are the same
But it’s not just being a loner that fueled in Rose’s transition from Americana to pop. It’s becoming more comfortable with herself as a young queer woman. It’s fully stepping into her voice, thoughts, ideas, influences. It’s taking the initiative to drive the creative process on both sides of the soundboard, in front of and behind the camera lens. She’s picked up new instruments and sounds, finding what fits.
The process feels a bit like playing dress-up in a thrift store: mixing old with new, slutty with modest until the impossibly perfect outfit emerges. It’s fitting, then, that LONER has smattering of just about everything: rockabilly, ‘70s punk, trip-hop, riot grrrl surfer rock, straight-up pop with hints of Brittany Spears, Justin Timberlake, The Shins, April March, and Grizzly Bear.
LONER is an effort to reflect Rose in the most genuine way possible. To do that, she had a major hand in the album’s production, co-producing the album with Paul Butler. That’s not necessarily a rarity, but industry standards have a way of minimizing women behind the board. Because only serious dudes can understand and sculpt a soundscape, and only serious dudes can push buttons and set levels. Or something.
“Bikini” hits back at those ridiculously limited standards for women in the music industry. The song drips with sarcasm and riot-grrrl, fuck-you sentiment.
We're gonna give you everything you've ever wanted…
All you've got to do is put on this little bikini
“Money” is fun on the surface—fast and sarcastic yet honest. But underneath the danceable track it is the seedy underbelly of all things cash—what we’ll do to get it, what some have to do to get it.
I get the sense that Rose is just getting started. Now that she’s established herself as a multi-dimensional artist, there’s no end to what she can accomplish. She’s said in previous interviews that sarcasm doesn’t necessarily read in pop music. I couldn’t disagree with her more on that point. Any woman (or man) with the slightest bit of awareness can feel that tongue fully in cheek and knows exactly why it’s there.
The album may feel a bit schizophrenic—or Schizodrift, as Rose calls it. Well, yeah. The modern world moves at an alarming rate these days. No doubt the response will be a bit moody: ecstatic, reverent, fiery, depressed, high-strung. Just the news feed feels like that on a literal day-to-day basis.
The most lauded of artists aren’t afraid to change, even if it means alienating an audience (Bob Dylan) or snapping them firmly into submission (Madonna). Rose’s trajectory follows in those footsteps, but she’s building a mold of her own. Loners and partiers alike will get it. Rose makes for good sonic company.
About the author: Kristin Kurens is a writer, editor, and artist. She thrives on words, music, art, and aiding the verbally challenged. In her free time she writes fiction, paints, travels, imbibes—always in pursuit of the authentic and strange.