Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Capstan Shafts -- Fixation Protocols (2008)

The Capstan Shafts -- Fixation Protocols (Rainbow Quartz)

The obvious first reaction upon hearing this record is to think that the Shafts could be called Guided By Guided By Voices. It’s the short songs, some that are fragmentary, and the oddball lyrics.

But the sound of this Vermont act is much more in keeping with loads of psych-pop eccentrics from the U.K. Think Beatnik Filmstars, The Orgone Box, The Orange Alabaster Mushroom and The Cleaners From Venus. Dean Wells has a bunch of ideas and runs through 22 songs in just over half and hour.

The tricky part about this approach is that no matter how appealing the sound -- and this definitely sounds appealing -- it’s hard for anything to stick. To a degree, this album doesn’t fully overcome this problem. But repeat plays allow some songs to really stand out and give the ears something definitive to latch onto.

The first song that stood out for me was “Eyeliner Skywriting etc.”, an endearing love song. As you can imagine, when the songs are so short, Wells wastes no time getting to the hook. The mix of the strumming guitar and the electric piano and the upbeat melody is a winner, as Wells waxes winningly about the “eyeliner skywriting poem that nobody gets.”

The longest song on the album, at a whole 121 seconds is one of the most rocking. “Her Novel ‘Canal Street Poetry’” is full of distorted guitars and the rhythm (it sounds like he’s drumming folks) is quite solid. The lyrics are hard to fully make out in the din, but snatches of words like “bestiality” certainly can bring any listener to attention.

On “The Stunted Kind”, Wells plays some swell low-fi folk pop, strumming a bouncy ditty with a great bass line and lead guitar touches. “Anthropecene Stealers” actually has a real Guided By Voices feel to it. And Wells finds a great riff to ride “Little World Saver” for a quick spin.

Wells has been doing this low-fi thing for quite a while, and suppose he won’t change his approach. But I wish that the songs sometimes had a bit more heft -- his one man band playing is fine, but most songs hint at rocking rather than reaching full force. And while I don’t want him to get rid of the quick hitters, I think he could build up some of these catchy numbers into something more. Then again, for his fans, this quick hitting approach is likely the whole appeal.

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