Sunday, May 18, 2014

Album Review: Capital Cities – In a Tidal Wave of Mystery (2013)

In a Tidal Wave of Mystery is the debut full length release from LA duo Capital Cities, and if I didn’t fully digest it last year when it first came out, it’s probably only because initially it felt rather more like pod fodder than it did a fully formed album. It seemed a little insubstantial, utterly shameless about its pure pop forms, and throwaway stuff compared to whatever more serious fare was demanding my attention at the time. I ripped a few specific tracks for playlist purposes, cast it aside, and left it at that. But it caught up with me again recently, so I thought I’d take a closer look … I’ve got the Japanese Edition, which came with a few extra tracks.

Now I love pop music as much as the next guy, quite probably a lot more than the next guy, but this is fairly blatant stuff, and rarely can a band have attempted to cram so many pop hooks into a single hour of listening. One hook after another, laid on fresh, tune after tune.

Which is all well and good … if you’ve got a sweet tooth. Mine tends to come and go; the older I get, the less lolly-water-tolerant I become … let’s just say music this saccharine sometimes takes a little bit more effort these days. But In a Tidal Wave of Mystery is for the most part a long way from being as bad as I first feared, even if it remains every bit as sugary sweet as it first appeared. It really should come with a health warning.

I wasn’t surprised though. That’s just how Capital Cities roll. These guys made a living writing hooks and jingles for commercial radio long before this album was even a glint in the collective eye. Some of this stuff is so obviously tongue-in-cheek, it feels a little churlish not to just go with it. It feels wrong not to embrace the “feelgood”, and easier to just let it wash over you as it comes thick and fast in a series of short three-to-four minute bursts. About the same length of time it might otherwise have taken you to consume something like a chocolate cream egg, or a liquorice allsort, say.

‘Safe and Sound’ was the big “hit”, going No.1 in Germany and top 10 in at least five other countries, thanks presumably to the likes of Microsoft, HBO, and others who used it in advertising campaigns.

‘Farrah Fawcett Hair’ (clip below) is my highlight though; it’s a trippy little rush of warm fuzzy breeze, a happy place, made all the better for the cameo appearance of Outkast’s Andre 3000. A “good shit” track about life, love, and what it’s like when someone plays with your hair. Perhaps the perfect example of Capital Cities endeavouring to not take itself too seriously, a pattern that emerges right across the album.

‘Kangaroo Court’, ‘Lazy Lies’, and ‘I Sold My Bed, But Not My Stereo’ are the best of the rest on the 12-track standard album release, the additional four “bonus” tracks on my Japanese Edition being blighted only by the stiff and wooden cover of (the Bee Gees’) ‘Stayin’ Alive’ … what’s been heard, can never quite be unheard.

If straight-forward pure unadulterated pop music is your bag, you’ll absolutely love In a Tidal Wave of Mystery. I do (sort of) love it … in small doses. And I “like” large portions of it, but there are also bits where I cringe a little more than I’d like, and this one comes recommended with reservations …


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