Captain: This is Hazelville (2006)
Keeping up with new music releases has been increasingly difficult. The Internet has brought on a continual influx of new artists and the time necessary for absorbing an album has been shortened drastically. Music has become akin to a salad bar – sample a little here and there and, if it doesn’t impress, move along. The Internet has also provided an influx of opinion, for better or worse, and it has become difficult to know who to trust. Nowadays I rely on the recommendations of friends because I find Pitchfork unbearably pretentious.
I came by Captain after reading a positive but brief review of “This is Hazelville” on chartattack.com, streamed a couple of songs and grabbed the record. At first it sounded like the kind of dreamy Brit pop that fans of early-mid 90’s Radiohead had been releasing in Coldplay’s stead since 2001, but the songs were undoubtedly well constructed. Opening track “Hazelville” starts slowly with a quiet piano before other instruments gradually join in and coalesce into a infectious rhythm. Vocals start in a whisper but finish in an outpouring.
Particularly engrossing is the vocal dynamic between lead singer/guitarist Rik Flynn and backing vocalist/instrumentalist Clare Szembek. The decade has seen its share of really great male/female vocal harmonies courtesy of groups like the New Pornographers, Stars and Broken Social Scene, but the combination of Flynn’s thick British inflection and Szembek’s reassuring lilt produces a case study. It’s put to its most sublime use on “Broke,” one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, in which Flynn and Szembek sing together until the bridge, where they trade vocal duties back and forth, building to one final chorus that soars and soars.
The band skillfully blends ethereal guitar with synths on songs like “Glorious” and “Wax,” complimenting them with riveting down-tempo numbers like “Build a Life.” “Summer Rain,” the album’s darkest track, features Flynn singing mournfully and in heavy reverb over an acoustic guitar about lost love until Szembek joins him to repeat the verse to heartbreaking effect. The lyrics of each song come to life in their delivery, never impenetrable, with vocals that sit perfectly in the mix. I sing these songs to exercise. The final track, “Accidie,” is “Hazelville”‘s bookend, with music that swells and then completely collapses in a storm of energy. It’s big and blustery, music that’s shameless in flaunting its size, yet focused in the talent it showcases.
A music fan has always made his or her own discoveries and staked a claim in them. In the 90’s, I held tight to a devotion to Catherine Wheel. Part of the joy of listening to an artist no one else has heard of is never having to admit you’re wrong about them. When a band takes off and achieves greater success, those who listened to them at their inception can take it as a personal affront. The Internet has largely wiped out such music fans because the degree of success an independent band can now achieve is much less than it might have been 10 years ago. It’s nice for everybody but bands like Captain, who should have been huge.
Video for “Glorious” by Captain: