Review by Rebekah Hoffer
Indie singer-songwriter Cavetown’s new album Sleepyhead is filled with all the warm, fuzzy vibes and gentle teenage heartache that fans have come to know and love. Released in March 2020, this feel-good album came out just in time for the havoc of a worldwide pandemic and the strain of self-isolation.
Cavetown’s real name is Robin Skinner, though he’s known affectionately by his followers as Robbie. Since launching Cavetown at only 14 years old, Robbie has gained attention for his sweet voice and introspective lyrics. Now 21, this UK-based artist has settled into his style and is gaining new fans by the day—Robbie has over 1.3 million followers on YouTube and nearly 4 million monthly listeners on Spotify.
And all that hype seems well-deserved. Robbie doesn’t just write his own music—Sleepyhead was also recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered by himself, right in his own bedroom. He even painted the cover art himself, which portrays a kitten snug in bed, semi-abstract and brightly-colored. Of course, he didn’t do everything on his own. Robbie collaborated with Drew Monson for the song “Wishing Well," and for “Snail” he collaborated with Chloe Moriondo.
The songs Robbie writes are self-described as “yearning to make sense of life.” Sleepyhead deals with themes like homesickness, mental illness, a recent breakup, and the pain of growing up. However, Cavetown’s music is far from angsty. With a sound ranging from indie-rock to indie-pop, it is sometimes acoustic and sometimes more electric, but always has its own distinctive flavor. Cavetown may deal with heavy subjects, but the tone is more that of lighthearted nostalgia.
“I have/A sweet tooth for you/I'm wide awake/The sugar went straight to my brain,” sings the chorus of Sleepyhead’s first track, “Sweet Tooth." This undeniably catchy tune is about a young crush, plain and simple. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had one. “Sweet Tooth” catches that familiar longing and nervous excitement and turns it into dreamy guitar chords and the thumping heartbeat of a drum set. “Feel like a kid,” Robbie repeats several times, making us wish we were. Never mind the fact that he’s practically still a kid himself—he really captures the intensity of first love, addictive and aching all at once. Just like too much candy.
Cavetown rides that feeling throughout the rest of the album, and there’s lots to love about this 11-track collection. However, the second song, “For You," is a remix of the very first song, which is a bit jarring. “For You” is a lovely song on its own, but it felt unnecessary, as if Robbie should’ve picked one or the other, but not both back to back.
Others have echoed that same sentiment. While reading other reviews about this album, the main complaints I encountered accused Sleepyhead of being either boring or juvenile. To some, the fact that most of Cavetown’s songs sound similar to one another is a good thing because they love his style; to others, it means he’s a one trick pony. Likewise, some listeners dislike what they see as the “childish” subjects Robbie sings about, while others are thankful for his authenticity and relatability.
Two of my favorite songs on this album are “Feb 14” and “I Miss My Mum." Both have a decidedly bittersweet tinge. In “Feb 14," Robbie seems to be mourning the end of a relationship while his friend tries and fails to comfort him. “She said she's here if I ever need someone to talk to/But all I ever wanna talk about is you.” The unadorned sadness in this song combined with the hope that his ex is doing well, and especially combined with Robbie’s gossamer falsetto, gives this song a wistful and almost haunting quality. Likewise, “I Miss My Mum” has a unique feeling that comes from melancholy lyrics mixed with upbeat percussion.
Even with the songs that are slightly underwhelming (which were “For You” and “Empty Bed” for me), I believe Robbie has succeeded in what he set out to do with this album. Sleepyhead has all of Cavetown’s consistent and idiosyncratic style while continuing to deliver simple, thoughtful, relatable lyrics that bring listeners back to their sentimental teenage years. I may not recommend Cavetown to people who prefer super energetic music or who hold disdain for adolescent sorrow, but if you like calm vibes and you have a bit of a sweet tooth, this album might be for you. Robbie’s voice is as tender as fresh heartbreak, and his music is the most cheerful form of sadness.