In music writing we give a lot of credence to the idea that a geographic area can be identified with a particular musical style. The Motown Sound, Los Angeles Glam, Merseybeat—all these monikers link a particular type of music inextricably with a particular place. Well, if Boston, one of my former places of residence, could be said to have a signature sound, it would probably sound a lot like Capital City. And I don’t mean that as a good thing.
Capital City is the “brainchild” (if one can characterize such a lackluster product as such) of guitarist/singer Geech Sorenson, a friend and former collaborator of Papas Fritas’ Keith Gendel. Founded in Boston in 1999, Capital City’s current lineup also features Walter Blazewicz on bass and Eric Herman on drums, with additional vocal support on this album by Julie Otis. Am I Invisible is the band’s first full-length album, following an EP and a single. I haven’t heard those recordings, but if Am I Invisible is any indication, I’m fairly confident that I didn’t miss much.
Capital City’s generic college rock is the kind of thing you could expect to hear in bars, house parties, and fraternity common rooms across Beantown on just about any weekend night. The overly earnest lead vocals, the simplistic guitar and bass lines with too much emphasis on syncopation, the standard issue backing harmonies, the slightly quirky lyrics—it all screams, “My greatest ambition is to win the Rumble” (an annual suckfest of a Battle of the Bands hosted by once-classic rock/now-“modern” rock Boston radio station WBCN). All this invective is not meant to imply that Boston hasn’t been the launching point of innumerable great bands or that it’s not a great place for music. Far from it. Any place that can lay claim to the Cars, the Lemonheads, the Pixies, the Blake Babies, Helium, the Swirlies, the J. Geils Band, Harriet Records, the Middle East, and T.T. the Bear’s obviously has plenty to boast of. But as long as by-the-numbers college rock like Capital City is far and away its dominant music style, Boston will always lag far behind its arch-nemesis New York, and not just in World Series rings.
From the opening track, “This Town Won’t Be the Same”, a country-tinged yawner, to the cliched fadeout of “Drift Away” Am I Invisible is a colossal bore. I swear the same laconic three-or-four-chord guitar riff is used on about half the tracks. Of course, it doesn’t help that I find the vocal stylings of Sorenson to be just slightly less painful than the sound of fingernails scraping across a chalkboard. The female lead vocal on “Receiving/Daydreaming” is a change of pace, but not one that’s really any better than the rest of the album. In fact, “Receiving/Daydreaming” reminds me of one of the Shannen Doherty character’s compositions in Woman in Danger Movie of the Week Friends to the End—you know the one where a murderous rival tries to steal Shannen’s band and her boyfriend. (And even if you wanted to argue the merits of the film with me, I think we all can agree that it wasn’t one of songwriting and performance’s finest moments.)
Not to be completely negative, something positive that can be said for Am I Invisible is that its production values are quite good and the recording very clean and crisp (though, when you’re really not enjoying an album, less clarity and crispness might actually be preferable). Of course, the recording quality should be good since the press material makes a big point of how this masterpiece was recorded at Cambridge’s Fort Apache, home of recordings by rock royalty like Uncle Tupelo, Dinosaur Jr., Throwing Muses, and Radiohead, among others. But this is nowhere close to that league, and it’s almost insulting to see those names linked even tangentially to Capital City’s.
Overall, civic pride in my former home compels me to throw Am I Invisible onto the scrap heap. Though it may not be the country’s most original or inspired, the rock scene of Massachusetts’ capital city deserves to be represented by something far better than Capital City.
// Notes from the Road
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