My Captains. I've been a fan of post punk music for a long time and this record was cool to look for in the late 90s/early 00s. I found it, but I can't remember where. There are four songs on this 33 & 1/3 7" Extended Play disc and they've got all the hep pre-reqs: guitar harmonics, atonal vocals, throbbing, undefined bass presence, and tom heavy tribal drums. I was intrigued by this record for a few years, not simply based on its rarity, but more its mystique. There's something about certain packages that insinuate a genuine alternative to the regularity of daily life, a different perspective on basic commonalities (gassing up the car, subway rides to work, pick-a-salad at lunchtime, "hi honey, I'm home," etc), a glimpse toward something else.
My Captains is one such record. A black & grey paper matte finish baring a charcoal drawing of dancing conquistadors with the ambiguous band name underneath while the flip offers a series of three separate old English cartoons, each one as casually disturbing as the next. This record was but one in a long line of ominous overtones, all of which provided similar emotional elements, captivating motivations to do something, to make some kind of mark, to try.
Music journalism was more a way to make sense of this motivation than simply to hype some group, more a way to clarify obtuse emotions, overcome prevailing precepts and find less limited hope in a world of limited reserves. For many, the last ten to fifteen years have been wrought with re-issues and re-packages, re-masters and retro, and with such ferocity, such deluge, that it makes absolute sense that only so much can be assessed with proper clarity. With such abundance comes overload, a point where there's too much and the prospect of sifting through the density of cultural information becomes intensely daunting. Even the reward of one's favorite song or album collapses under the tiresome weight of beginning the search.
The result: only the most accessible sounds rise to popular consciousness and of the few that reach such heights, only so much of it is understood. Much of it is present, much of it is listened to, yet a significant portion goes unheard. In short, only the most obvious and clearly mixed sounds register, which is why a decade's worth of bands looking back to the Rough Trade, Factory, 99, and Fast Product cadre saw fit to emphasize trebly guitar, nasal vocals and the most linear interpretation of a disco beat. Apparently basslines went the way of the Dodo, got lost in the over-stimulating flood of uncovered information, as did any of the subtleties that separated and distinguished each group. Naturally there were pitfalls, groups just as flaccid as Ugly Kid Joe, Paw, Deadeye Dick, et al yet how were we to know when excitement distracted us from our own interests? Perhaps we weren't as interested and instead were simply caught up -- six of one, half dozen of another.
For example, everyone knows The Smiths and recognizes them as ground zero for the 80s indie guitar sound, as they wrote some undoubtedly ace material. We often refer to them when comparing any music brandishing similar sonic elements, yet we compare them dismissively. Curious thing that, as Morrisey & band were simply part of a common musical landscape that bore many pocketed scenes, each one containing the same illustrious tapestry of sounds and in each town were likely no less than three Smiths of their very own, or at the very least groups with similarly unique trademarks.
Indeed Manchester's Railway Children have similar stylistic qualities and why shouldn't they? The Smiths were strong personalities, on record, in print and on celluloid. They were ubiquitous -- any combo interested in any alternative genre was privy to Steven Patrick's wry cynicism and influenced accordingly. Yet that doesn't take away the intricacies and otherness of like-minded groups. Different visual perspectives (sleeve art, label art, photo shoots), different instrumentation, different lives provide for different music however similar to the casual listener.
My Captains sound similar to any number of Joy Division inspired groups, though bear in mind even Joy Division were one of many acts mining the morbid bleakness of the coldwave/post punk/darkwave sound... lest we forget the immortal Comsat Angels -- who wrote "Waiting For A Miracle" without ever having heard a single note of Ian Curtis and his gang. So we have "History," "Nothing," "Fall" & "Converse" and each track sounds like each other, yet none of them sound like Section 25, 23 Skidoo, Crispy Ambulance, Dead Can Dance, Sad Lovers & Giants, The Chameleons, They Must Be Russians, In Camera, Where's Liss?, Mass, Mothmen, The Freeze, The Sound, Wild Swans, Robert Rental, And Also The Trees, Associates, Bauhaus, Blue Orchids, The Cure, Dance Chapter, Faction, Fra Lippo Lippi, but they don't not sound like them either.
Funny, we're all such qualified critics, we know all the pertinent contextual data, all the relevant historical and political timelines to assess and respond with heart and mind to art/information presented to us at all times. I'm sure we'd all like to believe that, and we often strut as though we're cock of the walk, yet we don't allow ourselves time to care. And the casualties of our assumptive arrogance are the selfsame artists we so halfheartedly affiliate ourselves with while not assimilating but half of it. These songs bore me greatly yet I love them, and live the atmosphere they manicured must have been as compelling as the music coming through the public address... a fat girl in every room. My Captains.
-- Joshua Gabriel
Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, My Captains.
My Captains EP (4AD)