Subways on the Sun's Capsize is a richly memorable, affective, and varied effort that serves as both a fitting continuation and ambitious expansion of everything The Honeymoon Stagecoach promised.
Subways on the Sun
21 September 2018
Washington indie rock outfit Subways on the Sun made a satisfying introduction with 2013's The Honeymoon Stagecoach. A humble yet hungry group with a fetching palette of DIY "shimmering guitar pop" and adolescently angsty songwriting, they established themselves as an alluring act with even better things to come. Thankfully, their sophomore LP, Capsize, provides precisely that. While very much aligned with its predecessor, it feels more self-assured, mature, diverse, and full-bodied, resulting in a stronger sequence whose catchy and dazzling pathos make for a winning formula.
According to the band, Capsize ponders "our collective struggle to accept the passage of time and identify the voices in our lives that are worth listening to". It's an intentionally "grittier" record to reflect their turbulent past (including the loss of original drummer Greg Swinehart). After he left, the main trio—frontman Erick Newbill, guitarist/programmer Lars Katz, and bassist Nick Barber—brought in Jesse Sprinkle to fill in and maintained an inclusive writing atmosphere in which they could write their parts without judgment. Because they completed a lot of Capsize around bodies of water (in miscellaneous houses), they subconsciously became inspired by water's ability to "provide an environment to reflect on how we are all guilty of doing too much talking, not enough listening, and feeling like what we believe is the only acceptable perspective", as Newbill explains. For sure, the set induces the heart and mind as much as it does the ears.
Self-described as capturing the "riff-heavy, synth-forward energy" of classic Muse, opener "Just to Be with You" reveals the album's inviting sentimental core. Backed by nuanced and vibrant dynamics, Newbill once again channels the endearing emo-rock resolutions of, say, Something Corporate, the Loud Family, and even They Might Be Giants in his earnest rebellion and starry harmonies. Later, the title track accomplishes an even more multifaceted and poignant feat, whereas its successor, "Tongues", ingeniously scatters dreamy coatings over a coarse foundation that conjures the almost industrial malice of modern Mew and In Absentia-era Porcupine Tree. The penultimate "Time's Not Long" also provides an appealingly dissonant yet radiant and inventive snapshot, with plenty of intriguing effects peppering the anthemic background.
Naturally, Subways on the Sun also shine when it comes to softer and warmer moments. "Works", for example, is gruff but light and beguiling, with a nice compromise between guitar riffs, bells, and piano chords aiding the balance (alongside adventurous rhythms, of course). Afterward, "I'm an Island" is a gorgeously haunting and delicate ode that, like much of Capsize, evokes—without overtly emulating—early Death Cab for Cutie (especially in how Newbill matches Gibbard's trademark everyman tenderness). It's closing multipart vocal rows are icing on the cake, too. In contrast, there's a 1990s alternative rock bounciness to the sing-along finery of "Know It All". As for "On Repeat", it follows genre tradition by concluding the full-length on a sophisticated and celebratory air of sobering endurance and optimism.
Capsize is a richly memorable, effective, and varied effort that serves as both a fitting continuation and ambitious expansion of everything The Honeymoon Stagecoach promised. Sure, Subways on the Sun certainly recall other artists—sometimes quite visibly—in the midst of their boisterous decrees and somber reflections, but it's in melding those elastic inspirations that they yield a characteristic identity. As such, they once again prove to be a charming new band with a wide-ranging passion for impassioned expression.