Emotionally Cathartic Indie Rock Rules Cartalk’s Debut Album

Emotionally Cathartic Indie Rock Rules Cartalk’s Debut Album

Cartalk’s debut album Pass Like Pollen is full of emotional honest indie rock with a splash of grunge and Americana.

Cartalk has been releasing singles since 2017, and they’ve just released their debut album Pass Like Pollen. The Los Angeles-based band had their first tour back in January on the Pacific Coast and were playing live shows up until the pandemic put a stop to them. Now their first album is here to tide us over. It’s a killer collection of indie rock, often with a grunge twist, and the occasional appearance of a little twang and a banjo.

Chuck Moore is the artist behind Cartalk. They write, sing, and play guitar for the band. Dean Kiner plays bass, and Andrew Keller plays drums for the band’s January tour and on the album. The album also features help from Sarah Tudzin, Jacob Blizard, Kenny Becker, Emily Elkin, and Noah Weinman. Together they’ve made an amazing debut.

The album opens with “Arroyo Tunnels” and a gentle guitar strumming. Next comes Moore’s voice, clear and full of emotion, and when they sing “West Virginia!” the feedback makes you think there’s going to be a big bursting sound. It’s a fake out, but the song does build out from there, adding drums, bass, and a cyclical guitar riff. With each repeat of that riff comes more instruments and more sound. The  intensity of the strings and horns makes you feel like it could grow forever, but instead it just fades away. It’s a gentle song in many ways but it packs so much feeling and emotion in a few words and simple instrumentation. It’s a powerful, yet understated opening to the album.

“Noonday Devil” starts with ambient sounds and feedback, making you think it’s leading to something tense. But then the guitar and drums kick in, and the song finds its ambling, carefree groove. The overdriven instruments give a solid indie rock feel, while Moore’s voice and the banjo that appears in the chorus add a level of twang, evoking a more Americana influenced, almost country flavor. Moore’s lyrics capture a feeling of listlessness, an inability to get moving out of a carefree funk. “It’s a sentence break / Comma between patterns /Oh the love you gave/ I’ve got a noonday devil” goes the chorus, and frankly I think we’ve all had a noonday devil weighing us down before. Moore has a talent for simple lyrics that can instantly capture a feeling perfectly.

The next track, “Las Manos,” starts with a mellow guitar intro from Moore and their calm vocals describing an awkward introduction that ends with: “I left without your number.” That’s when a wall of distortion, feedback, drums, and bass crash in. Cartalk fully embraces grunge on this track, and it’s got a great intensity. Moore sings about how a crush evolves into a relationship, using  little details about the other person to create the feel of affection growing to unbearable levels. The back and forth between tranquility and distortion captures the nervousness and excitement of falling in love. When things really break open and Moore sings: “Did my honesty scare you? / Did my honesty scare you? / Honestly I scare me too,” the song is totally irresistible. It snuck up on me the first time, and everytime I hear it, it blows me away. 

“Wrestling” jumps right into it, with a drive from bass and drums and a soupy guitar lick. It’s a rolling indie rock song, loud and proud. Moore sings about being tongue-tied, unable to just spit the words out. It’s that feeling when all sorts of thoughts, feelings, and half-formed ideas are rolling around in your brain and you just can’t seem to get them in order. The song itself embraces that energy and creates a fun sound that rolls right along, especially in the chorus when Moore captures that inability to speak: 

Wake myself up in this mirror

For the sake, to simply to relax

Pull back all the festering thoughts

Clean out what is still intact

Cause she gets her point across so well

Those lines, sang over smashing power chords, capture Cartalk’s skill at crafting vulnerable, real lyrics with a fun, rocking sound.

Far off drums rattle behind two competing guitars in the opening of “Car Window”. One guitar is clear and strumming, while the other crackles with distortion before being joined briefly by a banjo. The high strumming guitar continues on, creating a tense feeling of uncertainty. Moore’s singing only highlights the taut feeling, especially after the line “Keep my head out of your window / Wish you would drive a little faster now,” when the wall of distortion returns and relief washes over the song. The song continues to play with that balance of tension and relief, telling a story about yearning and pain. There’s a moment of catharsis when Moore screams “Now!” and the song rumbles and fades out from there. It’s a powerful song, a little grungy, a little emo.

“A Lesson” is one of the more stripped down tracks on the album. It’s just Moore’s voice and guitar and a cello that floats in and out. Moore’s voice is full of emotion and vulnerability, but it never feels fragile. They sing about dysfunction, a partner that treats every action no matter how small like they’re doing you a favor. It’s a harrowing song and captures the pain of someone who does the absolute bare minimum and doesn’t really even seem to care. The lines “Handwriting on the receipt / Only time I ever saw it / Yeah, what about a card to me?” followed by repetitions of “I’m sorry” highlight how deep the damage from a toxic relationship can go. The final lines are the most devastating but honest: “Your generosity didn’t go unnoticed / I just wish you were more than a lesson.”

The next track, “Driveway”, brings back the grunge sound. That hint of twang returns to Moore’s voice on this track, and as the song progresses they turn venomous. It’s a post-break up song, and it balances its walls of distortion with verses with clear guitar and a steady, loud drum beat that never gives up. The first half of the song is quiet yet tense, but the latter half relishes in waves of distortion as Moore sings with increasing dissatisfaction. Moore cuts loose, almost belting on the lines: “Is this how we evolve? / I felt relief. / Is this how we get on?” There’s a moment of tranquility, just guitar before the rumbling, growling distortion returns, and Moore growls along with it. The song is a journey, and it finds a slice of peace by the end.

“Something or Nothing,” the penultimate track, is a gentler song, featuring acoustic guitar and Moore singing with more delicacy in their voice. There’s a hypnotic quality to their singing, and the breathiness makes it feel like a whispered lullaby. They sing about need and love, and the lyrics are full of contradictions. The line that ends each chorus, “Give me something or nothing at all,” gets at the strange gray area the two people in the song are in. There’s need and support there, but there’s also dissatisfaction and confusion. Is this pair really helping each other or are they each bringing each other down? It’s emotionally charged, yet Moore sings with a distance, creating a haunting yet beautiful song that never quite answers your questions.

The album closes with “Sleep,” which begins with bright electric guitar and a muted yet echoey bass drum beat. Moore sings out with confidence, and that quietly booming drum lets you know that it’s only a matter of time before the song breaks out from its mellow beginning. The song is about coming out from beneath the emotional fog and funk of a breakup. A fuzzy electric guitar riff builds and finally crashes down in a single thundering punch. Moore is moving on, and they’re almost out of the woods, but those final steps are the most difficult. The repeated line “Remind myself our season has come and gone” captures that feeling where you know things are going to get better but it’s hard to stop thinking about the past. The explosive drums and rumbling bass propel the song along. And there’s a simple but powerful little guitar solo that leads into the emotionally charged bridge: “Wracking my mental state merely for letters / Portrayal of my heart’s crisis / Can you feel this?” The song gets louder and stronger until the very end. It rocks along until it ends mid line.=

Cartalk’s debut fuses their indie rock feeling with bits of Americana and grunge. They pair that sound with lyrics that are sometimes devastating, sometimes fun, but always full of emotional honesty. They switch flavors easily, and sound totally confident no matter the song. Pass Like Pollen is a seriously impressive debut. This is one of those albums that got me from the very first listen, and I’m going to have it on repeat for a while.


Top Photo by Katie Neuhof