Delicate, folksy, acoustic tunes are hard to pawn off on listening audiences these days. But for every screaming ‘N Sync fan making some global corporation millions of dollars, there’s got to be someone clamoring for something simple and pristine. If that simplicity seems most pure from tiny groups of musicians who spend their time playing to coffee houses instead of arenas (remember when coffee used to be for sale at places that weren’t called Starbucks?), then maybe Capital City is for you.
Capital City is basically a guy and a girl named Geech and Miranda who play extremely stripped down pop tunes with a folk edge. Although the band includes drummer Eric and bassist Jeff, these two members are more or less incidental in the face of the brevity of the band’s music. Start Your Own Country is the band’s first release, a four song EP, and hopefully indiciates what the band is all about. It’s hard to tell from how little material they’ve got out, but they make an impression.
“How to Start Your Own Country”, which seems to be the theme song for a band who says their goal is to start a “rootsy new wave metropolis”. I wasn’t there, but it’s a song I can easily picture being dished out in the pre-ironic modern rock Athens, Georgia of the early 1980s (although Capital City is from the Northeast). With an Indigo Girls strummed guitar and keys making up the musical backbone of a song that hinges on the chorus, “Hey, don’t just stand there, I know something we can do / Gonna start our own country / I know that it will be made for you”, it’s Athens deadbeat club emotion at its most terribly, terribly sincere. And for that it’s beautiful.
The Simon and Garfunkle pop of “To and Fro” is the EP’s great highlight. A straightforward guitar riff and simple beat drive the song like a low-key REM tune. The song also highlights the harmonizing of Miranda and Geech, whose voices play off of each other spectacularly. On the other hand, “Coming Home” is the antithesis of this play. Although the press release mysteriously calls this song “sonically challenging” (it’s not), it also shows that Miranda has the better voice in this outfit. Geech takes most of the vocal leads here, with Miranda occasionally filling in a back up line, and its pretty clear that the sonorous quality of Geech’s voice works better as a harmonizer than a lead. The final tune, “You Went Astray” is an organ and vocals tune that almost reminds me of a Twin Peaks Julie Cruise song, except that Miranda doesn’t have that high a voice. What makes it interesting though is that her vocals are double-recorded in different keys, giving it a nice depth.
It’s hard to judge a band on four songs. That’s what makes me question the point of Start Your Own Country. From Near by Music’s point of view it makes sense. They’re a brand new start-up label and getting product out is the best way to ensure you stay afloat, but this album doesn’t quite convince me that a full-length from Capital City is something I should be interested in. The EP is a dangerous format in that way. It can be used to great effect, especially for bands that are between LPs, but for a new band, four delicate songs does not a fan base create. However, there is that quality of sincerity in Capital City’s brief offering which promises that more could follow. We’ll have to wait and see.