Capsize 7 – Horsefly CD – Pig’s Zen, 2010 (10/15 Reckless Records, Broadway Avenue)
When I think of Chapel Hill indie rock from the ’90s, three big names come to mind: Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, and Polvo. I’ve always appreciated how those bands formed a spectrum: Superchunk at the catchiest, most approachable end, Polvo at the weird, off-kilter end, and Archers of Loaf smack in the middle. It’s a fluid spectrum, since “Harnessed in Slums” and “Web in Front” certainly reign among the finest indie rock singles of the decade, Polvo’s “Can I Ride” and “Tilebreaker” are mix-tape ready, and Superchunk’s dynamic range blossomed with Foolish, but it helps orient where other North Carolina bands—why yes, there were other bands—fit into the scene.
This orientation isn’t always beneficial, as history favors the lasting legacies of big names. Groups like Capsize 7, Geezer Lake, the Raymond Break, Pipe, and Erectus Monotone are mostly footnotes nowadays (quite literally in the case of the Raymond Brake, whose Andy Cabic has gained a higher profile in his indie folk band Vetiver). So imagine my surprise when I find a seemingly new Capsize 7 album in Reckless Records’ CD bins—were they huge in Japan? Did I miss a reunion?
I certainly didn’t mind running into a new Capsize 7 album, even without knowing the back story. I’d first heard their Recline and Go EP when Parasol Mail Order recommended it for fans of Polvo and Archers of Loaf (target market = found) and quickly tracked down their 1995 Mephisto LP, which was issued on Caroline Records. I’ll hand it to Parasol, since I’d place Capsize 7 a touch past Archers of Loaf toward Polvo on the aforementioned spectrum. Tricky guitar work, emotional vocals, and hooks aplenty—essentially what I like about 1990s indie rock in a nutshell. “Western Friese,” “Column Shifter,” and “Pong” made appearances on my mix tapes at the time. Singer Joe Taylor has a touch of Bowie his vocals, which made finding Capsize 7’s cover of “Queen Bitch” (mp3 download) from Crash Course for the Ravers: A Tribute to David Bowie a thoroughly logical loose end.
The back story for Horsefly is all too familiar: following Mephisto, Capsize 7 goes into the studio with Drive Like Jehu’s Mark Trombino, records their sophomore album, gets dropped by Caroline, then breaks up. Their A&R rep at least had the courtesy to give them the rights to their album, which sat around for thirteen years until it was mixed in 2009 and pressed this year. The timing coincides with the release of Taylor’s new band’s first album, Blag’ard’s Mach II.
It’s a shame Horsefly went unheard for so long. It tightens up the hooks and instrumentation of Mephisto without losing its spirit. It’s also filled with lyrical reminders of its history—excellent opening track “Generator” (mp3 download) asks “Did you break up? / Did you try and never make it?”; “Start or Lose” goes into its chorus with a held delivery of “At least I tried”; and the title track features a count-up in years ending in 2009, which was either tremendously prescient or added last year. The modern mix helps to remind me of the good aspects of 1996 indie rock without the drag of dated production values (not that the reliable Trombino is a risk for those issues).
You can get all of the Capsize 7 and Blag’ard recordings direct from Joe Taylor through his Pig Zen Space site, which charges an entirely reasonable $3.50 per album for mp3 downloads and gives most of that money to the artist. (The site design is a 1997 HTML nightmare, though.)