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CAPILLARY ACTION – So Embarrassing (CD, Pangaea Recordings)

Posted: June 30th, 2008, by Simon Minter

Capillary Action’s previous album, 2005’s Fragments, was a riotous mess of oh-so-hip angularity and pleasingly backward-looking progressive rock arrangements. So Embarrassing continues along similar lines and themes, crashing headlong into the forked crossroads of jazz and prog with eleven tracks even more deranged, confusing and inventive than ever.

Opener ‘Gambit’ sets the tone – being seemingly angular vocal-led guitar music, before breaking into screaming hard rock noise, introducing chamber music strings and then collapsing repeatedly on itself. It plunges into skipping, vocal harmonies, piling on more noise and, illogically, muted trumpet. Throughout the album one track falls indistinguishably into the other: before you know it, ‘Pocket Protection is Essential’ has appeared and turned proceedings into a Herbie Hancock-style jazz fusion odyssey. This music is so complicated that it must be scored and performed – surely it’s not dreamt up by a band unit? – it’s amazingly precise, and has the vibe of ‘trained musicianship’ all over. It’s generally melodic, but with considered atonality sprinkled liberally between tracks. If there’s a hit in here, it’s ‘Elevator Fuck’, a 1960s spy show theme tune turned uptight, with rolling melodies, xylophone and trumpet. The mid-song church organ break is followed by some outstanding fuzz synth repetition, and it’s a super-catchy piece.

Vocally, there’s a lot of Elvis Costello-style pronunciation in here; with some Robert Wyatt feeling to the precise, conversational lyrics. In fact, there is much of Soft Machine’s experiment circa Volume 1/Volume 2 at play, and late 60s/early 70s progressive rock seems more of an influence than the modern bands this superficially recalls (Battles, Don Caballero, Oxes and so on). Capillary Action use modern sounds and styles to further some kind of compositional dream. It’s almost too relentless in its inventiveness and chaos – at times, it threatens to be just too much (for example, the mariachi stylings of ‘Paperweights’ or the vocal style that can grate at times). All in all, however, things are held together. Moments like the heavy metal power chord action in ‘Bloody Nose’ and the vocal chant/drum ending to ‘Badlands’ quickly dissolve any doubts. An outfit like Capillary Action are always going to be too downright bizarre to be of mass interest – but that’s what they have going for them. This isn’t an easy listen by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a surprisingly rewarding one.

Capillary Action
Pangaea Recordings

Simon Minter

Simon joined diskant after falling on his head from a great height. A diskant legend in his own lifetime Simon has risen up the ranks through a mixture of foolhardiness and wit. When not breaking musical barriers with top pop combo Sunnyvale Noise Sub-element or releasing records in preposterously exciting packaging he relaxes by looking like Steve Albini.


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