Colorado rock act Slow Caves might have just released their debut full-length Falling last year, but their sound is directly out of the mid-'90s alternative scene. The band is so entrenched in this sound, it feels as if they went through a checklist:

  • Soft/loud song dynamics made famous by the likes of Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, and Silverchair? Check.
  • Alternating Major/Minor key changes between chorus and verse? Got those.
  • Beautifully crafted guitar leads that scream peak Weezer? Oh, yeah.

For '90s teens, this is the kind of album that immediately transports you to that sophomore year in high school, walking to the bus stop with a Walkman turned to max volume, quietly humming to yourself while you dreamed about being as cool as Fairuza Balk in The Craft. And while Falling is dripping in
alt-nostalgia, there's more going on underneath the flannel shirt.

"We worked with [producer] Frenchie Smith, and he really helped us create that shoegaze sound," bassist David Dugan tells SFR. "We write dreamier songs, but [Smith] opened our eyes to new worlds of distortion, reverbs and analog equipment that took us to a new level."

Let's back up a bit to contextualize that statement. In 2017, Slow Caves released their first EP. Titled Desert Minded, those four tracks are so sonically different from Falling, I had to double check to make sure it wasn't by a different band. Where I was expecting a less polished version of the songs found on the full-length, I was greeted with comparatively gentle summer-beach-type tunes—good, but very different.

Dugan notes it wasn't just the band working with a new producer, the sonic shift is also a product of Slow Caves going through different inspiration modes.

"When we put out our first EP, we were really inspired by surf rock," he says. "With this record, we fell in love with the '90s vibe."

Plenty of bands change their sound or bring in producers to help steer the ship to new territory, right? But what sets Slow Caves apart from the gaggle of other acts still knee-deep in the past is that they make it sound fresh, effortless and, most importantly, bloody good. Falling is an album that brings all of the joy and experimentation of '90s alterna-rock while feeling genuinely invested in the details that made growing up in that era so exciting.

For example: During the final chorus of album opener Sorry, there's this one drum fill and pinch harmonic occurring as emphasis. It never shows up before in the song, it's never even telegraphed at any point in the preceding two minutes— it's just there for a moment, but it feels so fun. I had to rewind the track a dozen times to take in this one tiny fill that might be a throwaway riff on any other record. Later in the album, Slow Caves throws some gang vocals in the pre–chorus during the second verse of Falling Through The Clouds. This is, of course, a punk-rock staple, but once again, it's an element that doesn't show up before or after in the track. That's a simple addition, but a very cool one.

And in a way, that's what the '90s were about: Taking pieces or ideas of established formulas and spinning them in clever ways to make tracks fresh. A producer can elevate a band, for sure, and Smith does just that, but these moments break down to chemistry and longevity; Dugan explains he has "known Oliver and Jakob [Mueller] for 10 years, and played music with them for most of that time."

And, of course, no alternative album would be complete without some proper angst.

"When we were writing the record, we were going through some hard stuff," Dugan says. "A lot of failed relationships, we were on the road for something like two years, quitting jobs, and putting school aside. We were bummed out and vulnerable."

And even though the songs might be born of personal difficulty, Dugan says Slow Caves found new meaning in performing them with friends.

"For me, instead of seeing the songs where they came from, it's a happy thing," he explains. "I feel like it's been a coping mechanism. Now we've expressed ourselves, and when other people are singing them back to you, you can kind of feel that they've gone through the same sorts of things. That's helped to get through stuff and came out better on the other side."

So where does the road lead for Slow Caves? Who knows. They're in the studio, recording a new album as we write, planning future tours and hoping for possible successes. Still, Dugan says, "if it never gets bigger than this, I think we're okay with that."

Slow Caves with Microdoser and Sunbender:
8pm Sunday March 22. Free.
Second Street Brewery (Rufina Taproom),
2920 Rufina St.,