Thursday, June 12, 2008

Capillary Action—So Embarrassing (Pangaea Recordings)
Capillary Action picked an apt name. The band dips into and draws from many musical pools, with each rivulet terminating in a thick vein flowing with smooth pop, hardcore, jazz, and general prog goodness. If aliens flew over Nanaimo, beamed an unwary Elvis Costello into their craft and forced him to mind-meld with the Dillinger Escape Plan and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, old Declan’s subsequent compositions might sound like something off So Embarrassing. The album is packed with brief songs that flirt with catchiness but inevitably fly off in all directions. Bandleader Jonathan Pfeffer’s songwriting philosophy is apparently “Get in, get out, and leave them with their heads spinning.” There will be no casual background listening once this album goes on. The amount of activity and detail in each song demands your full attention. The arrangements and production are both top-notch—the soothing pop moments are downright orchestral, while the production (engineered by aural punisher Colin Marston of Behold the Arctopus and Orthrelm) renders the loud/quiet contrasts with neck-snapping precision. Pfeffer’s lyrics, a minimal poetry of extreme anxiety, seem to direct the ever-shifting music that underpins them. Skimming the lyric sheet reveals much to fret over: “The secret exit that leads to an intricate trap.” “I think I heard a sound. There’s someone in side the house.” “I still sleep with gritted teeth.” “Deep-seated in a cement-filled gut.” Yes, the neuroses are tumbling out with the same manic drive as the music, and we’re all the better for it. Some lyrics are concerned with music itself, a topic that, when handled with style and skill (as it is here), is the best subject matter of all. So few artists can do it without being cheesy. “Self-Released” explores the parallels between two types of committed relationships: musicians/record labels and men/women. And in “Pocket Protection is Essential,” the author wants the song’s unnamed subject to “Pummel that fucking noise into my head. Make it burn, make it throb. I need a fix—where is it?” For me, it's right here on this album.

As luck would have it, Capillary Action play the Railway Club this Sunday, June 15. Lord knows how they pull off this kind of mayhem on stage, but it should be a visceral thrill anyway.

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