The Capitol Years are kind of poised on the starting line. There’s been some great press, including positive mentions in Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and Magnet. And, well, there’s the fact that they managed to score an opening spot for the Pixies at a recent reunion show, which certainly doesn’t hurt your chances for success. Still, it’s hard to predict whether or not these guys are gonna get a chance to break out into full stride. Their new full length, Let Them Drink, doesn’t shed any significant light on the situation either way. On one hand, they could easily get lumped in with a thousand other pretenders to the garage rock throne lining up in droves to tack a “the” onto the front of their name and play for 60 dudes and one chick at your local beer bar. On the other hand, they might someday rise above all this nonsense to actually become arbiters of good taste and mystic mediums channeling all things rock. As it stands right now, I’m not willing to call it either way.
When they’re on, they’re on. Witness the pleasure of “Ramona”. It starts with a Creedence guitar vamp and morphs into some Strokes-worthy pure pop bliss. And while it’s tempting to measure them in terms of the success of that band, they’re quick to break the formula. The album’s title track is built on hazy layers of acoustic guitar strum and wafting Crosby-esque vocal melodies. That being said, they still manage to peel a little paint with the garage rock swing of “Mounds of Money” and “Lucky”. Although a love affair with the Stooges won’t win you any originality points these days, the Years play past the riffs, building a humble home on tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation. Listen to singer/writer/guitarist Shai Halperin compare himself to a “piece of wood” and “a bathroom toilet” on “Lucky”. Unlike Halperin, the majority of the current crop of apers don’t seem to seem to understand that being “serious” is a different thing altogether from being “cool”.
As expected, a track called “Stones (Watch it Not End)” invokes the specter of that band, but in a heartening mid-‘60s way, rather than the early ‘70s drunken bar brawl way you might expect. Although “boozy” would be an apt word to describe a track like “Solid Gold”, which toes the psychedelic line, quite nicely transitioning between the pastoral and the angry kick start of a motorcycle engine. It’s also hard to find fault with the Bryds-ian guitar flourishes on “Giant Drunks”, although the slow burn of the song comes a little too close to boring. Unfortunately, the full-on stoner drone rock of “Nothing to Say” barely charms at all, and numbers like “Going Down” and “Dirty Bitch” seem almost too quaint to mention. The strangest moment comes on the opening number, “Juicer”, when producer Thom Monahan somehow ends up with Halperin and the boys sounding just like the Pernice Brothers, a band whose albums he’s produced in the past. From the bleary eyed vocals to the building drum sections, it’s almost a dead ringer, and oddly enough, it happens that once and never again.
Let Them Drink isn’t the leap into the spotlight that some might have expected from the Capitol Years, but that might be a good thing. While the good times never seem forced, the band has yet to establish a unique voice amongst its throngs of competitors.