Philadelphia’s Caiola Returns From The Wild On New LP, Only Real When Shared
By Tyler Asay
It’s been years since I’ve seen or read Into The Wild, the movie/book about the life of Christopher McCandless aka Alexander Supertramp, the explorer & hitchhiker who traveled the United States before passing away in Alaska at the age of 24. There are, however, many connections between McCandless’s story and the music world; the 2007 film had a memorable soundtrack by Eddie Vedder, and Arcade Fire’s first record has a song about the explorer. McCandless’s story is endlessly inspirational for musicians because it reflects the weightless existence and touring lifestyle that they often have to adjust to. Going “into the wild” is necessary, it’s the norm.
Mo Lowda & The Humble singer/guitarist Jordan Caiola’s first solo record, released under the name Caiola, was also inspired by McCandless’s story. It’s title, Only Real When Shared, was taken directly from a quote attributed to McCandless, “happiness is only real when shared.” The record was recorded almost entirely during quarantine with Caiola’s Mo Lowda bandmate Shane Woods, and the content reflects that.
Musically, Only Real When Shared is a pivot from the Humble’s sprawling and jagged bar-rock. The title track kicks off the record with folky acoustic guitar strums and an electric jangle, with Caiola singing about runaways asking where they fit into the world. It opens the record at a breakneck pace that bleeds perfectly into “Back Then,” which sounds like Springsteen fronting the Lumineers.
There’s also a woodsy warmth to a lot of the songs on this record, particularly the Bon Iver-esque hum that rattles the desolate “Wolves,” or the burning intensity that ironically heats up “Alaska.” “I watched you get dressed for the very last time,” sings Caiola, “just thinking how I’ll never change the contour of your smile.” It’s an intimate portrayal of a relationship in real time, which opens up as the half-time train beat kicks in furthering the journey. That theme comes back up again on the watery and beaten-down road-trip song “Hydroplane.” Even when you feel yourself losing it in the moment, using the memory of a loved one can be enough to tether yourself. And on the minimal Nebraska-core tune, “Faceless Better Half,” Caiola channels imposter syndrome with a hideaway finger-picking sweetness while still trying to find that happiness.
“Finders Keepers” is another mid-tempo folk-rock jam, claustrophobic in its lyrical content but wide open when it comes to the arrangement. Lost in the woods, Caiola repeats “I’m the only one” over a thumping bass track, with its sunny guitar leads contrasting with looming storm clouds. While that imminent danger peers over the horizon, there’s always a bright side: “It makes us sleep so easily in the darkest of times.”
There’s also chances for Caiola to experiment here, like on the 80’s synth pulse of “Own Medicine,” with its booming snares and reverb bringing up memories of The War On Drugs. This comes up again on the Petty-influenced “22nd Time,” a downhill-rolling treatise on existential journeys. The strength of the songwriting is what is on display for Only Real When Shared, locked in with itself, songs echoing each other while standing on their own two feet.
Album closer “Petrichor” (which is the sweet smell caused by a rainstorm) takes Caiola to the end of his line, turning his back on the first steps of his odyssey, only to start anew. While the story of “Alexander Supertramp” continues to inspire musicians across generations, Caiola understands that a journey is only as important as its ending. McCandless never came home. Even with the forces of nature against you, you put your struggles on your back and fight forward On Only Real When Shared, Caiola returns from the wild so his journey can start again.