By Ryan Smith
Like most people, I stumbled upon Capital Cities via their huge single “Safe and Sound,” and, despite having a strict ‘don’t buy a record based on one song’ policy, I was interested enough to pick up their debut album In a Tidal Wave of Mystery. Prior to my first listening experience, I was a little daunted by the band’s dancey sound, but I was a convert after the first listen.
I swear to the moon that In a Tidal Wave of Mystery is the follow-up to Adventures in Modern Recording, the last record from the Buggles. As a huge fan of the Buggles, I mean this in the very best way. Not only did Capital Cities (the Los Angeles-based Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian) get their start writing jingles (as Buggles singer/bassist Trevor Horn did), they also belt out infectiously solid post-disco with the same attention to production that the Buggles did.
Tidal Wave is by far the most well-produced and engineered record I have heard in a long time. All the bells and whistles are crystal clear despite strong, pulsing beats and smooth, rolling disco-style basslines that could easily have overpowered a lot of the more subtle touches. From a production standpoint alone, this album is worth its weight in gold. Oh, and the cover art is outrageously awesome!
“Safe and Sound” isn’t the only great tune on the album either. Songs like “Patience Gets Us Nowhere Fast,” “Kangaroo Court,” and “Love Away” demand to be cranked up (no distortion either, by the way) and sung along with at reckless volume. My favourites, however, are “I Sold My Bed, But Not My Stereo,” which is a no-brainer as another single (the line ‘in a town of ones and zeros, you are one magnetic hero’ would sound right at home being sung by Trevor Horn on the Buggles debut The Age of Plastic… and there’s also the sampled female vocals that only add to that vibe!), “Farrah Fawcett Hair,” which takes a great concept and runs with it (the Andre 3000 bit is really cool and completes the song), and my current favourite, “Origami,” a Buggles song through and through.
While the basslines and catchy keyboard hooks are undoubtedly the highlights on the record (for me anyway), Tidal Wave is laced with top-notch trumpet leads that, especially when paired with the electronic leads, are beautifully refreshing to hear in music like this. It’s a wonderful little nod to disco and its use of horns. I must admit, it’s also great to hear so few guitar parts. I find lately that few people are doing anything interesting with the guitar anymore, and this album certainly makes a good argument for not having said instrument front and centre in music anymore. On that same page, it’s also great to hear smooth, clean vocals that don’t try so damn hard.
What we have, when all is said and done, is a magnificently catchy post-disco record with smooth-as-silk modern production values. I’ve never been a fan of modern dance, but what Capital Cities have done is taken a sound straight out of the late seventies/early eighties and intelligently applied it to said genre in a way that is extremely forward-thinking. Instead of outright copping a style from the past, these gentlemen have seemingly gone back in time, learned the style, and leapt forward thirty years to accurately represent just what that style would sound like had it survived long enough to use modern techniques.
In a Tidal Wave of Mysery has been a favourite of mine to listen to in the car for some time and a great deal of time to follow, I’d imagine. If all you hear when you listen to this record is a straight-forward dance album with simple jingles, you have been fooled! There is so much more going on than meets the eye (or the ear, as it were). Without a doubt one of the highlights of modern recording and a great example of just how brilliant mainstream music is capable of being.
RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.