feature image photo by Cristina Fisher
I was first introduced to the music of Caroline Rose by a friend who had posted one of their songs to Instagram. The song, “Jeannie Becomes a Mom”, was pop-y and fresh and made me an instant fan of their work. I quickly dove into the album LONER and kept my eyes peeled for future products. Fans were blessed with another album in 2020, and recently, Rose released their 2023 album, The Art of Forgetting.
Listening to this new album, you can feel how complex this new project is. It feels like Rose is taking more risks and becoming more themself. When I sat down with Rose to talk about this album, we went back to their musical beginnings.
Though currently living in Austin, Rose grew up on Long Island and found a connection to music fairly early.
“Both my parents are artists and always had artists friends coming through, and I have one of my parent’s friends who’s kind of like my fake uncle,wp_poststhey say. “He would always come through with different instruments and a harmonica. He actually gave me my first guitar. So I’ve kind of always just been noodling around on instruments first. That’s as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I started writing music.”
One of my favorite songs lyrically on the new album is “Miami”, the third track. It sets a pretty typical queer scene, a love unraveling despite one or both parties’ best efforts. Its a song about unraveling while trying to stay whole, with lyrics that just scratch an itch for me, especially at the song’s climax:
“This is the hard part
The part that they don’t tell you about
There is the art of loving
This is the art of forgetting how
This is gonna break you
You’re gonna rip your own heart out
There is the art of loving.”
When talking with Rose, they explain to me that they often see colors as a part of their creation process. For me, listening to “Miami”, I see a really bright chartreuse. Like a palm tree lit up by the sun in a way that transforms the green into a different shade. Also, the way the guitar screams as the song ends evokes that color for me.
Rose explains that they see each song as a movie, and when they are writing and producing songs, they wonder: What’s the color palette for this movie? What would the costuming look like? I can only imagine this brings a whole new depth to the sound of the music they make, getting to have fun with the production side in that way.
One thing that comes up a lot in our conversation is the topic of artistic freedom. Rose explains that in previous albums, they made a lot of concessions to bureaucratic forces involved in album making. We don’t get too deep in the weeds here about these people and their roles, but Rose proclaims that they feel The Art of Forgetting is their best album because they refrained from making any of those concessions again.
“I really lost myself making that album [Superstar, 2020], and I just didn’t want that to happen again,wp_poststhey say. “So I took my time, and I really didn’t put any pressure on myself at all, which I think is why it’s good. There’s no pressure. I didn’t really involve any business people, which is probably the best thing an artist could do — not involve any business people. I didn’t make any concessions on it. No one listened to it until it was done except my, you know, my family and my immediate friends, and I’m really proud of that in a way because it’s surprisingly hard to stay focused on your goal and enough to have a complete final cut over your work. I’m always surprised by how easy it is to let someone infiltrate the process.”
Superstar is a great album, but it’s definitely different than this new one. A song like “The Doldrumswp_posts(a personal favorite) wouldn’t have appeared on the last album. But it fits perfectly on The Art of Forgetting.
When I ask Rose if they could do a Song Exploder-style breakdown of one song on the album, they chose “The Doldrums.wp_postsIt’s one of the shorter songs on the album, but sonically it’s very dense, meaning it contains so much: vocally, lyrically, and instrumentally. It’s a bountiful song, dark and twisted.
The song opens with the lyrics:
“In a dream
There’s someone I hate
A smile creeps across my face
As they burn there at the stake.”
The backing vocals accompanied by the staccato drums in the section that follows give this song a very eerie feel that really captures your attention as a listener. As the story of the song unfolds, Rose asks “If that was me then, then who am I now?”
Rose sings in a way that almost sounds like chanting in this section; it’s visceral and emotional. The lyrics continue with
“There comes a time in every life
where you have to ask what it means to be alive”
and it’s clear that they are wrestling with big questions about humanity, our capacity to love, to be cruel, and so much more. These are things they had attempted to explore in their early songwriting, they tell me, but on this album, they nail it.
The front half of the album definitely dances around in its darkness, but just like in a good poem, of course comes the volta, and we turn to a sort of lightness.
“I think more than anything, I feel more like a storyteller,wp_poststhey say “And the way that you see tracks is really such an essential part of telling the story. I’m trying to tell the story of just a particular time. I’m just getting through this painful process, making my way through it all. And when you listen to the first half of the album, it’s pretty dark and very emotionally Stark, I think. And then as you listen through to the end there, you can kind of hear these moments of healing. Adding the voicemails is a storytelling device. So yeah, it’s like I’m really thinking a lot about it on every element.”
The voicemails included in between songs from, I’m assuming, family members of Rose’s, are tender and affirming. They really are like arrows directing you toward the healing elements in the album.
My reading of these moments is that the speaker in these songs is someone in this deep state of pining and longing for romantic love, or really just genuine love and connection, and the voicemails serve as a confirmation of love that already exists in the speaker’s life.
But the big song on the album for me is “Love Song for Myself.wp_postsIt is such a painful yet lovely song that is only amplified by the vocal turn Rose takes on this track. They sing at a higher note with a softer tone here, which strikes me as different than the rest of the album. The song is laden with really stark images: “If I am a doormat, then I am handwoven”/”If I am a hurricane coming to destroy everything then I too am the return of all things beautiful.”
The album is at once playful and heartwrenching, affectionate and brutal, so many seeming contradictions blended together in the most human way. That’s what I love about listening to these songs. Because no one among us hasn’t felt vengeful and also at a loss for love in the same day. It paints such a divine picture of what makes Rose, and the rest of us, human.
The Art of Forgetting is now available for purchase. And available to stream on all platforms.