Why must every full-length from Mock Orange be 'long-awaited'?! The eternal indie underdogs have been plagued with label issues and while I don't know details except the dick move George Lucas pulled on Dead Droid, I do know that their five major releases have four different logos on their backsides. I have followed the band closely for a decade -- I can't think of many other groups with that distinction -- and I want to see the guys break out; some label consistency certainly wouldn't hurt. Hopefully Wednesday holds on to 'em and helps these Hoosiers release their next one in less than four frickin' years! Before I get to Captain Love, if you want to hear this fanboy spend nearly 1,300 words ranting about love for their past stuff, check out my review for 2004's Mind is Not Brain. I realize the challenges I face writing an objective review here, so I will try my best.
After the sonic turning point of the First EP, these long-time friends have spent the last six years perfecting their Southern-tinged angle on guitar-led, groove-layin' indie rock steeped in the Modest Mouse and Built to Spill traditions, leaving their first two albums as perfectly-executed yet less-unique stepping stones. The guys come at'cha full-bore with the opening title track, though they reel in the reins on the tempo opting for one of those head-bobbin' beats they do so well. We also find the first sign of increased keyboard usage with a high squealing synth tone doubling the vocal melody. The keys here are always relegated to supporting roles but their bigger presence is noticeable: the spacey line towards the end of "Majestic Raincoat" or the chiming verse tones and wiggly chorus line on "Lila" among others. But overall, the group has undergone the least amount of stylistic changes here, and that's a good thing after the commitment issues of their previous life.
"World of Machines" showcases the wide range of guitar tones and styles the band utilizes, from the lighter, cleaner funk tones in the verse, the fluid lead near the end and that squiggly guitars-in-jello thing in that little breakdown 1½ minutes in. Intense vibrato and pitch-bending as well as frequent slide usage on Joe Asher's guitar leads defines their now-cemented sound alongside Ryan Grisham's unmistakable voice and ever-stronger falsetto. Standout and long-time MySpace staple "Song in D" struts like mad in the chorus with a cool brassy guitar line and the unshakable foundation of bassist Zach Grace and Heath Metzger, who has long been one of my favorite drummers despite not having as many show-off moments as in their faster, punkier days. "Motel Man" starts with odd measures causing a stutter-step in their strut along with a sweet elastic bassline as the rhythm section shines yet again.
"Relax and Degrade" finds the band turning the tempo down a tad and while it's a weaker track in comparison to the rest of the album, it's a nice change of pace. Mastering ballads that fit their style should be next on the band's to-do list. And while lyrics are more like frosting on the cake for me, often I have no idea what Grisham is singing about and wish he took a plain-spoken approach at times. Take the second verse of "Song in D" for example: "When the rain came we made a name / Broke up the game / Counted the blades of grass and killed the first child / Wasn't it us?" Say what?
Although it's an instrumental and less than a minute long, "Ms. Brown's Morning Cup" is worth mentioning. I'm not sure if the band would agree with me, but that guitar line and the airy nature of this transitional track sound vaguely Japanese to me, something I noticed with "Segue" off of Mind. It's pretty sweet no matter how you define it. Picking up where Mind's folk-blues ditty "I Can't Seem to Think" left off is "Old Movies." It's as outright bluegrass as they've ever been yet fits perfectly into the group's aesthetic, and the song succeeds on a sole melodic idea used to its full potential over intertwined guitar lines. It's the intended closer, and I wish it were the last thing you would hear. They tacked on older post-Mind song "Beauty of a Scar" as a bonus for the U.S. release. I'm glad they included this strong track, but "Old Movies" makes a better true closer.
I've been lucky to have had Captain Love a long time prior to this release and have listened to it countless times. I like it more each time I hear it, although I don't think it's the perfect record Mind is Not Brain was. Perhaps that record had the distinction of being the first full-length in their impressive new shoes, but I still think it had a pinch more 'hits.' I tried to find more things wrong with Captain Love as to not come off as such a rabid fan, but alas, I fell short. If my ravings can convince at least a few of you to finally check out this band, then I've done my job, because those people will then surely go on to rave to their friends and so on. I believe Grisham when he says "Not one ounce do I care about being famous" on the "Making Of" video (on the front page of their site), but I just can't let these guys be my greedy little secret -- they deserve so much more.