Tuesday, January 5, 2010

review: Capgun Coup - Maudlin

Capgun Coup


Team Love, 2009

Review by Andrew Jones

Capgun Coup: "Sitting on the Sidewalk"
Capgun Coup: "Bad Bands"

I vividly remember the fall day in 2005 when I purchased Tournament of Hearts, the third LP from the Constantines. I'd just graduated from college, was living back at home, and working a horrible job that sometimes required that I go 13 or so days without a day off. It was, in short, a bad time, but I remember reading about the Constantines one night around this time. The reviewer said they sounded kind of like Fugazi, which convinced me to buy the record. This description wasn't exactly fitting, but I digress. Anyway, I was out running errands on one of my rare days off of work, and I stopped at the record store first thing to pick up Tournament. I paid the guy for the album, went out to my car and started it up before unwrapping the CD and putting it in the player. The first measures of the opening track, “Draw Us Lines,” started up and I felt like this would be the song I would write if I could write songs. I didn't even put the car in gear while the song played on, just sat in the driver's seat and listened. When the song ended, I pushed the button to skip back to the beginning of the track, and merged into traffic feeling pretty good about things.

I relate this story of finding opening track bliss because it's similar to my recent experience with Capgun Coup's new record, Maudlin. I've often thought that it would be cool to make a mixed CD of the best opening tracks on albums, and if I ever do that, “Computer Screens and TVs” will certainly be on the playlist.

The song blows up from the start with lo-fi, fuzzed out vocals that sound like a teenager yelling at his parents before he storms off and slams the door to his room. The whole song is frantic, filled with angst for our technology saturated, televisual culture, and is as brief as a Tweet, clocking in at just over two minutes. His tongue is obviously planted firmly in cheek when singer/guitarist Sam ends the tune singing, “What a beautiful time to be born in.” I only put this album on my computer the other day, but the iTunes play count on this opening number has already gotten out of control.

It would be wrong to say that Capgun Coup is breaking totally new musical ground. The influence of 60s psychedelia is writ large on these songs, as are folk and punk. After listening to the album a few times through, I was struck by how appropriate the band's name is, as a coup with cap guns sounds to me like an overthrow of the established order that fails to foster a full blown change to the status quo.

In other words, the songs on Maudlin
don't always sound new or unfamiliar, but there are vocal lines and guitar riffs scattered throughout that demonstrate the freshness of the band's sound.

The hard rocking instrumentation and rough yell-sing vocals of songs like “Bad Bands” and “Only the Times Are Changing”—two personal favorites—are nicely counterpointed by some of the album's acoustic tracks. “Now That I'm Home” is a wistful take on the pros and cons of being home versus those that come with life out on the road. It's a mostly upbeat track with brushes slapping out a beat on a snare as bells jingle along. Though the final line of the song—“I want to leave”—suggests which way the song's narrator is leaning, Sam's aloof delivery of these words weighs them down with doubt. It sounds like he might go, but that he doesn't care much either way.

As much as I like loud and aggressive rock music—and Capgun's take on how to make such music—I think my favorite track is the final one, “It Breaks No Heart of Mine,” a really beautiful banjo ballad. The vocals on the song are not as distorted as on other tracks, which makes them sound especially fragile and awkward, a sound that is well-matched to the brutally honest and wounded lyrics. It's a typical unrequited love ditty, but the vulnerability in the vocals suggest that the narrator is less Lloyd Dobbler in the yard with the boom box blasting “In Your Eyes,” but more the best guy friend of the girl with the boyfriend who has repeatedly rehearsed but never delivered his love speech.

I like that
Maudlin starts on such an upbeat and manic note with “Computer Screens and TVs,” then ends so calmly with “It Breaks No Heart of Mine.” It's as though the band has taken listeners from thinking about the artificiality of modern life, to putting on a clinic on how to buck these current trends and wear your heart on your sleeve. With this in mind, much of what makes this album enjoyable is the depth of feeling in each of these songs. This band has strong feelings on things and they're not holding them back. Ultimately, Maudlin is proof that Capgun Coup has keen ears for the hooks of yore, while also possessing some unique ideas of their own, ones that will hopefully have the chance to be explored and developed by the band for some years to come.

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