While it will never die, the Great Garage Groundswell — think White Stripes, Hives, Strokes, hell, even the Vines — has abated. Nowadays, the Fickle Finger of Musical Fancy (such alliteration these days!) is pointing at the fleet of well-groomed fellows who borrow liberally from ’80s post-punk and New Wave. Given that once-hot garage took its cues from late ’70s punk, it’s no surprise that these New New Wavers flip the retro calendar a few pages and find inspiration from the early ’80s music scene. Just think: At this rate, we’re only 10 years away from a grunge revival. Hooboy.
You know the bands on both sides of the Atlantic that fit the mold described above, or at least heard them on the radio and couldn’t shake the feeling that they all sounded alike: the Killers, the Bravery, Bloc Party, the Futureheads. Not to say they’re bad bands, but they all share chunks of the nervy, angular guitar DNA created by the likes of Gang of Four and XTC 20-some odd years ago. Now add to that list of young bands the Capes, who hail from South London and count the aforementioned Bloc Party as mates. On their aptly titled five-song EP Taste, the Capes — singer/guitarist Kris Barrett, synth player Richard Gladman, bassits/guitarist Rupert Cresswell, guitarist Nick Cresswell and drummer Rupert Phelps — prove themselves to be every bit as good as the other acts ruling the New New Wave scene these days… but they aren’t doing anything to stand out from the crowd, either.
The Capes are an eager-to-please fivesome, and sometimes on Taste they’re guilty of trying too hard. They take a kitchen sink approach to opener “Francophile”, piling on electronic bleeps ‘n’ bloops, Gladman’s spooky keys, lots of guitars and Barrett’s filtered vocals — it’s too busy! Fortunately, the band recovers and finds its footing. “Tightly Wound” (which has been floating around the UK since the end of 2004) is less frantic, with Nick Cresswell’s angular guitar tapping directly into the scene’s prevailing sonic trend. At the same time, singer Barrett is friendlier-sounding than some of his contemporaries; the tune stakes out the middle ground between Bloc Party and Supergrass. First single anyone?
They do quiet as ably as they do loud, with the ethereal “Chromeless” and the warm, gentle “In the Morning”. Still, to keep pace in the scene, they’ve got to rock and the EPs two remaining tracks do exactly that. “Regional Heats” (dating back to 2003) is almost power pop (if they’re looking to stand out in the pack, power pop would be an interesting detour for them) anchored by Phelps’ urgent drums. EP closer “Galaxy Fraulein” makes better use of the bleeps ‘n’ bloops that the band is so enamored with, and opens up the band’s sound, exploring both garage-y fuzz and spaced-out, hip indie rock.
It’s easy to get caught up in the British press’ Next Big Thing hype (and it’s just as easy/cliché to criticize that hype machine), but if Bloc Party, et al, are worth of hyperbolic buzz, then — at the risk of damning Taste with faint praise — so too are the Capes. It ain’t no sin to give the people what they want. We’ll see how this all shakes out, and if this New New Wave movement still has legs, come Fall ’05 when the band’s full-length drops, but as it stands now, Taste won’t be the only, uh, taste we’ll get from the Capes.