Favorite Track: "Forget My Name" Least Favorite Track: "Nostalgia"
In the first few seconds of the debut studio album from the San Francisco Indie four-piece Carpool Tunnel, all one can hear is the light tap of a hand drum. On impact, it is simply that and nothing more; a light bongo embellishment that seemingly serves no greater purpose. However, by the end of Bloom one will realize that the same bongo is also the last thing audible on the record. It pre-phases the intro “Learning to Listen” and trails the outro “Closer”. What first seems meaningless eventually becomes the sole facet that completes the musical circle that is Bloom. This element can be seen as more than just an easter egg however, it is the musical embodiment of the bold proclamation upon the album’s cover: “Like a flower, you too shall bloom”. This little bongo begins as a mere seed, but by the end of the final track, it blooms into a gorgeous flower and becomes the link that holds the album together.
Carpool Tunnel has seen more than one bloom during the formation of their band and the bizarre road that led them to their debut album on Pure Noise Records. In 2017, the group met on Vampr: an app that is essentially a Tinder for musicians. If that isn’t weird enough, they pitched their debut single to the app's CEO and he invited them to LA to record it with Grammy-nominated producer Billy Mohler. The rest is history.
The San Francisco band’s debut album Bloom works mainly within an indie rock soundscape, but also features moments that sound reminiscent of early reggae or even surf-rock. Instrumentally, they aren’t pushing many sonic boundaries but it is incredible how much they do with the rather elementary sonic palette they present. This can be accredited to just how instrumentally fluid each member of Carpool Tunnel is. The band’s lineup consists of Daniel Stauffer on drums, Spencer Layne on bass and backing vocals, Bradley Kearsley on lead guitar, and Ben Koppenjan on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, and each of them bring something equally as impressive to the table.
Generally speaking, the majority of the highlights on Bloom come from its second half, but that isn’t to say the first half isn’t a respectable stretch of songs. The intro “Learning to Listen”, presents the album’s guiding concept of growth. Koppenjan riffs vocally over a simple guitar groove, moving in and out of his falsetto as he compares human growth to that of photosynthesis. “Learned from flowers how to love/We’ll have to shed our leaves, and look at our petals/ Without each other, we would all decease”. The intro is equal part song and poetry. It sets a bold precedent of authentic lyricism that Bloom lives up to for the rest of its run time. It never feels like the words on this album mean something superficial, or disingenuous; rather the opposite is the truth.
The next two tracks “Impressions” and “I’ll Be Your Friend” are two of the slower moments on Bloom. While groovy, neither of the hooks live up to that of the best moments of the album. Regardless, some of Stauffer’s open hi-hat work on “Impressions” and the overall endearing sentiment of “I’ll Be Your Friend” keep the songs afloat. Following the first two, we get the strongest stretch of tracks on Bloom. Songs four through eight are remarkably consistent; not one goes by without an absolutely infectious hook to offer. The fact that this stretch of songs is the meat of the record is a gigantic part of what makes Bloom such an enjoyable listen.
Among these five, “Flora” and “Forget My Name” provide the album’s strongest one-two punch and arguably the two best tracks on the project. The former is a clear cut arena rock banger. The melody within the chorus both vocally and instrumentally is wildly fun, and one of the grooviest moments on the LP. Atop the mix is a weaving guitar lead from Kearsley, that Layne melodically mirrors on the bass. The loop is dynamic, and contains loads of instrumental depth. The latter track, “Forget My Name” is the clear black sheep on Bloom and serves as perhaps the album’s biggest surprise. Each verse begins with Koppenjan singing in his falsetto, before moving down into a much more stable melody, and then exploding into the hook and peppering in these momentary screams of “FORGET MY NAME!”. The swagger he maintains on the song provides an energy that feels reminiscent of a Bob Marley, and it's equally as charismatic. The bassline in this one sounds absolutely huge, and the deconstructed drum solo on the back half is probably the most instrumentally impressive moment on the entire project.
Bloom ends with “Closer”; an endearing and inspirational wrap-up of the album’s thematic rollercoaster. It concludes the debut project with a message of hope, not just for the band but for the listener as well. It feels like a shared experience in many ways, a cohesive moment of finality reminding the listener to take every day as a single step in their overall journey. For a debut album, Bloom is about as polished as one could ask for. The hooks stick, the words mean something, and the intention is genuine. Few bands out of San Francisco are putting out the caliber of music that Carpool Tunnel is at the moment, and their potential is extremely exciting. Time will only tell what the future has in store for this young band, but it's a fair guess to assume that like a flower, they too shall bloom.