Capillary Action- So Embarrassing
A couple months ago, I received an e-mail from the lead singer of Seattle's Capillary Action requesting that I post a review of his band's latest record So Embarrassing. Since my inbox was already flooded with requests from various musicians and marketing interns urging me to plug the next best thing, my intial reaction was to decline. But I had a strong feeling that this was something special that I couldn't dismiss without at least giving it a listen. I replied to Jonathan's e-mail by requesting a CD of the band's music along with a lyric sheet for further examination. A few weeks had passed before the package arrived in my mailbox, but the music that was concealed in this package was well worth the wait. Good things come to those who wait, and I hope that Jonathan feels the same about this review.
As I listened to So Embarrassing, I couldn't help feeling that I was on a rapidly descending elevator ride through hell, stopping on every musical floor on the way down. Jonathan Pfeffer's emotive vocals quickly change to discontented screams, often sounding like a schizophrenic child with attention deficit disorder who was fed a steady diet of thrash metal and easy listening. I could literally get carpal tunnel from writing out all the superlatives that come to mind while listening to this mind-bender of an album, so I'll save that for another scribe.
I have always admired music that pushes the envelope creatively and stylistically such as Captain Beefheart's masterpiece of abstract blues, Trout Mask Replica, and Mr. Bungle's captivating exercise in genre-defying experimental rock, Disco Volante. Capillary Action have captured the creative energy of those records and condensed them into a thirty-minute thrill-ride through the darkest recesses of the human psyche. So Embarrassing is similar to these records in that it continues to confound the listener's expectations after repeated listens. Throughout most of the record, there are more twists and turns than a high-speed car chase in an action movie. At times I felt an urgency to jump around like a monkey on crack as the off-kilter start-stop rhythms propelled my body forward. Other writers have compared them to Dirty Projectors and the Battles, but this comparison only scratches the surface of their sonic complexity. For my money, I would bet that the band was listening to the complete Mike Patton and Mr Bungle discography for creative inspiration while recording the album.
From the opening bars of the first track "Gambit," I could tell that I was in for a musical feast for the ears. Complex, ping-ponging guitars generate start-stop rhythms as the track unfolds into a myriad of musical mood-swings. As the vocals alternate from a melodic croon to intense barking, you realize that the singer is expressing his disdain for an ex-girlfriend. With vocals like "I give and I give and I get nothing back," and "I won't ever let you back in, but you'll always bring me back to start," he is clearly dealing with a broken heart. Towards the end, a sweeping string section brings the song to a close.
Before you can catch your breath, the opening notes of "Pocket Protection is Essential" are assaulting your eardrums with a fervency normally reserved for death metal bands like Slayer or Pantera. At approximately the minute-and-a-half mark, a jazzy bassline and organ riff ushers the track into the realm of fusion. The next track, "Elevator Fuck," comes storming out of the speakers with a bouncy guitar riff juxtaposed with orchestral strings. Lyrics such as "Sometimes I think I put too much thought into something so short-lived" help illustrate the protagonist's precarious situation on the elevator. Other highlights on the record include the slow, simmering intensity of "Badlands," the cinematic south-of-the-border flamenco guitar on "Paperweights," the jazz meets math rock intro on the brief "Sexy Koala," and the falling-to-pieces, chameleonic song structure of "Self Released" that ends with the most dynamic rush of strings that I have heard in recent times.
I recommend that you don't operate heavy machinery or drive a car while under the influence of this record, as it's intoxicating sounds might distract you from reality. After listening to the album in it's entirety, you will find yourself reaching for the repeat button on your cd player to experience it all over again.
I almost forgot to mention that Capillary Action will be playing a show in Portland at the Someday Lounge on October 26th. If you don't live near Portland, make sure to check them out when they come to a town near you.
Also, don't forget to check out their myspace page to purchase their records.
Capillary Action: Gambit and Pocket Protection is Essential
From: So Embarrassing [Pangaea Recordings, 2008]