The Capsules are from Lawrence, Kansas, not exactly a hotbed for rock acts in this day and age. Having debuted live as a supporting act for accomplished and acclaimed group Low, the duo of Jason Shields and Julie Shieds have shed the skin of their previous band Shallow to continue where they left off with their debut album, 2002’s Reverser. The Shields are also a husband and wife team, so don’t start your Meg and Jack White comparisons, please. What the Capsules use to their advantage is a dreamy but still rather hopeless, dreary background that comes from listening to one too many Jesus and Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine albums. It’s this aura that greets the listener on “Light the Path”, with Julie working off a sparse-yet-infectious hook before the Richard Hawley-esque guitar theatrics during his days with Pulp. “You were lighter than air flying higher than anyone”, she sings à la Delores O’Riordan minus the lilt.
Grandiose and dramatic guitar riffs greet a lot of the numbers, especially the pleasing and quickly infectious “Slideshow”. It’s a continual building of tension and guitars but never crashes through, resulting in a consistent eerie feeling. It actually decreases during the bridge, not really regaining its second wind but coming awfully close. Julie Shields is the star of this record, having the innocence in her pipes of a church choir member on the reflective “My Lucky Stars”. The Capsules screw around with the formula somewhat on the electronica-tinged “Day Sweeper” that moves just above a snail’s pace but isn’t exactly a rock dirge. “Starting Tomorrow” is a tune best described as something old and something new. The quasi-military drumbeat lays the groundwork for the smooth harmonies and the lush, picturesque accents of what might be synthesized strings before fading with little more than a whimper.
If there’s one minor beef with the album, it’s that the Capsules rarely challenge themselves with the material. Each tune is well crafted and executed, but there is little change in the tone or tempo of the hypnotic, spiraling efforts. “When the Radio Stops” is a prime example—strong vocals, minimal arrangements that make the Velvet Underground seem like a big band orchestra and a overall effect that tends not to grow on the listener but not exactly turn one off. Of course after writing this they change things up somewhat, if fleetingly. “Visual Searching Pattern” thankfully moves into groundbreaking territory, keeping all the nuances of the album in place but adding new sonic flavors and voice or conversation samples or loops.
“What I Learned about Zero” resorts to the first few tracks and there is little to no change in Julie’s vocals. It’s a tune that brings the Cure’s Bloodflowers to mind, especially “The Loudest Sound”, a relationship that was never truly realized but enjoyed for the moment. “Zero was a boy who lived on Broadway Street / I knew I found a friend, we had the same dreams”, she sings while Jason complements her on electric guitar. It’s possibly the album’s highlight, as everything they’ve been doing comes to fruition here. “Net of Ghosts” continues down this path, although the jagged backbeat and occasional blips and beeps leave a lot to be desired. But it’s back to square one again with “Turn to Stars”, which is simply okay; nothing more or nothing less. Its melody is stronger than some other songs, though, which is always a plus.
It seems quite appropriate that the title of the closer is “It Hangs over Me”; it’s a title which characterizes a lot of the sonic traits and touches used. The album hangs and floats over you—enjoying it while it is here but not really remembering every second afterwards.
// Notes from the Road
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