photo by Shannon Claire
by Samuel Segrist
When I was but a wee adolescent, growing up on an acreage in the rural countryside of western Nebraska, my school chums and I would stage massive Capture the Flag battles. These were no paintball wars, nor were they BB gun battles. The only parent-sanctioned guns everyone could afford were capguns.
We would run down dried-out irrigation canals, climb mountainous hay bales and hide in ruinous cornfields, all with perfectly harmless Saturday night specials. When the time was right, we would spring from our hiding places and blast away, the caps going rat-a-tat in the dry air. Of course, without blood, paint or shot-out eyes, there was no way to prove who shot whom first. Instead, there would just be a bunch of arguing, a lot of, “I totally got you, dude,” and, “Nuh-uh, I got you first, buttmunch.”
This bloodless argumentation is an apt metaphor for the kind of debate that frequently occurs within the indie music scene, particularly online, where it is impossible to punch someone’s lights out or stab them for suggesting that, I don’t know, Sonic Youth is just noise. As online discussion, social-networking debates and “conventional” criticism continues to (d)evolve, it seems there is an increasing need to provide context for a new album’s music, to define terms and to link them in a spiderweb of influence and genre.
For some reason, most bands resist labeling, as if the label is going to be a de facto synonym for limit. Perhaps bands are worried a label will doom them to a particular context, from which they’ll never be able to, as Mr. Morrison recommends, “break on through to the other side.”
Contextual Doom is the third album by Omaha-based Capgun Coup, and one wonders if the title is a nod to their awareness that listeners and critics will attempt to pigeonhole them with labels. The band’s profile at Team Love says they are “not the most well-versed students of rock music.” This is potentially an ironic red herring for the critically minded fan because throughout the course of the album — released on ORG Music — there is clear evidence of an extensive familiarity with bands going all the way back to the 1960s.
The dry, intimate drum sounds and wall o’ noise hearkens to Lou Reed’s half-spoken, half-sung melodies and the Velvet Underground. The laid-back drum patterns and semi-fuzzy guitars with up-front, mumbling vocals are reminiscent of the Jesus & Mary Chain. As the album goes on, there are slinkier, more upbeat jams, such as “Claire Doesn’t Care,” which reminded this listener of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. There is a strong New Yorkish vibe a la The Strokes and We Are Scientists to some of these tracks such as the fuzzed-out “Q&A,” which features ultra-snotty vocals that drunkenly traipse over lo-fi, blown-out guitars.
The stand-out track is “I Don’t Care,” which seems to provide a clue to the contextual circle in which the band finds itself, and it comes near the end of the album. On this peppy, little Latin-shaker, the quick lyrics go:
"I really want to be a singer
It’s not my fault that I want something bigger
I want to sit around and point my finger at you, and you, and you, and you
"There is no point in finding fame and fortune
There is nothing really that is important
All my thoughts have been imported from you, and you, and you"
The narrator of this track is speaking from the point-of-view of someone who desires a voice, who wants something more out of life/relationships/art/whatever, but also wants to point an accusatory finger at others. A nihilistic tendency has taken over, and the speaker realizes no original thoughts have come from within; all thoughts are imported from the others within the context.
Rather than give in to existential despair, the speaker, like someone who is sick of arguing about who fired first, finds comfort in apathy and simply no longer cares. Perhaps Capgun Coup sees the context they reside in — the indie music swamp — and they don't care about those labels or the weight of rock history and they just want to rock out.
Samuel Segrist is a Hear Nebraska contributor. He was born 80 percent deaf, but he got better. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.