Thing of the Day


January 29th 2011

Today’s Thing of the Day is the latest Lifeguards album from Guided By Voices men  Robert Pollard and Doug Gillard, meanwhile the first fruits of the new Capillary Action album have been let loose…

Lifeguards Waving at the AstronautsLIFEGUARDS - Waving At The Astronauts (Ernest Jenning/Serious Business) – Lifeguards are Robert Pollard and Doug Gillard from Guided By Voices: the two have been doing things together outside of the Guided By Voices realm since 1999’s well received Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Dept album. Their debut release as Lifeguards, Mist King Urth, emerged, to rather healthy approval, in 2002 on Robert Pollard's own Fading Captain Series label, and now they’ve reconvened for the first time since that ‘official’ end of Guided By Voices in 2004 (although Guided By Voices are back and playing again, do bands ever really end?). 

So the duo started working on Waving at the Astronauts sometime in 2010. Seems Gillard wrote and recorded ten instrumentals at home then sent the finished compositions off to Pollard who then graced the tracks with a touch more melody as well as some of the “most strangely poetic lyrics of his career”. They then took it all in to a New York studio, added the vocals and finished things off late last year, and so here we are, start of 2011 and the ongoing thing that I guess in some ways still is Guided By Voices has another chapter.
   Waving at the Astronauts is an album that grabs you from the off with the slightly ragged, rather triumphant piece of timeless pop rock that is Paradise Is Not So Bad. “Is that something new you’re listening to? Sounds like classic old pop rock,” enquired a voice from the corner of the Organ studio, and that voice is right to ask that - it does, in a very positive very now kind of way, sound like a classic piece of 70’s FM radio pop-rock. Great opening riff, ear-catching first vocal line; Pollard and Gillard are easing us into their new album in a stylish manner. Tempted to say something like “if this was R.E.M it would be all over the radio in the biggest of ways” – I’ll resist the temptation to say that though, even if it does sound a bit like R.E.M, well until we get to that glorious chorus anyway – impressive start to the proceedings. 
    Healthy mix of songs to be found here: though the album is very much one positive whole, a collection of songs that sound like one body of associated work (Guided By Voices albums could be a little disjointed at times back there). Sexless Auto has a driving Guided By Voices nye posternew wave chug to it, edgy sound, What Am I is a mellow sounding off-kilter little piece with that I’m a racehorse on golf course line that builds up to a frenzy with the repeated question of the song title. They Call Him So Much is a simple, uncluttered song, more of Pollard’s cleaver word weaving.  Infectious, non-obvious guitar progressions, bit of an Elvis Costello feel, touch of Mott The Hoople – English namedropping but always with that touch of North American alt.rock to it. Product Head has a healthy taste of 70’s new wave jauntiness to it and those stuffed animals couldn’t really bite clean through a pillow could they? Hey look, I’m a fan, tried to organise the release of Guided By Voices on our in-house label Org way back in the very early days of the band, always liked their work - and once again they haven’t let us down, just fine fine songs, crafted tunes, clever lines, lots of depth... just classic, timeless North American alternative pop rock with that extra little bit of Guided depth to it. All about the songwriting really, and Guided By Voices always has a tiny bit of a timeless quality to them. Lifeguards are making impressive easy-on-the-ears North American alt pop rock, good.

Waving at the Astronauts is out on February 15th

There’s a free download taster of that excellent opening track of the album Paradise Is Not So Bad HERE: Paradise Is Not So Bad.mp3

Meanwhile, one of our most favourite of favourite bands of recent times, New York’s unique CAPILLARY ACTION have started to unwrap new material. There’s a track streaming over on the Tiny Mix Tapes website, with whom band leader Jonathan Pfetter was once a writer… They’re sounding as uniquely good as ever (and my spell checking grammar corrector is disputing my use of ‘whom’ there): capillary action feeding frenzy

Capillary Action Capsized cover

Here’s what Tiny Mix Tapes have to say..
“Capillary Action, led by the beautiful ex-TMTer Jonathan Pfeffer (who was fired after getting into fisticuffs with our news editor over the usage of the word "whom"), are finally releasing their follow-up to 2008's So Embarrassing. The album's titled Capsized, and according to a press release, it absorbs "Ives and Bartók, Brazilian work songs and Bulgarian choral music, UK grime and Philly soul." (What, no Franz Ferdinand or Pains of Being Pure at Heart influence?) Look for the album in April on Natural Selection”.
Capillary Action:

Here’s some archive Organ coverage from Capillary Action’s last visit to these shores back in 2009

CAPILLARY ACTION – Old Blue Last, Hoxton, London – 19th March 2009

(Organ issue #299)

In every respect, Capillary Action are unique. Not only do they have an unquestionably one-off sound but they have a work ethic to match.  This morning they flew in from New York, laden down with the tools of their trade and slept off their jet lag Capillary Action livein Hoxton Square until it was time to lug said tools (double bass, accordion, drumkit essentials, guitar, brass and large quantities of Latin American percussion) across Old Street to the Old Blue Last. Tomorrow they play King's Cross before cheerfully setting off on the kind of UK and European tour that would make many a rock band blench and whine.  This morning, due to 'one of those things' that can happen on such adventures (in this case, their accommodation arrangements quarantined due to chickenpox), there was a chance they'd be spending the night in Hoxton Square too, until a London band stepped in with a friendly floor. This kind of unstoppable faith has got them a support slot in front of a decent crowd, several of whom now have their mouths hanging open.

  Capillary Action play an intricate, brilliantly surprising kind of avant-rock, veering insanely from twisted lounge jazz to bursts of near thrash to Brazilian street band to high-end contemporary classical. In one song.  You could sketch them out as a really refined Mr Bungle, but there's more detail and delicacy, and they've arrived there by their own route rather than as an influence. Tonight, this nine-piece semi-orchestral outfit, as heard on their dazzling 2008 release 'So Embarrassing' has miraculously compacted to a semi-acoustic five piece of guitar, drums, double bass, accordion and trombone, seemingly without losing any of the density and subtlety of the album.  Main man/guitarist Jonathan Pfeffer leads the close four-part harmonies that lace each complex composition, often whilst simultaneously playing classical guitar parts in a way that makes you blink and go, can you do that?

   The re-arrangements of the album work perfectly: the accordion's playing parts that keyboard or second guitar handles on the album, the trombone takes on violin and lead. Despite being a more acoustic setup, the big dynamics, the stops and crisply telepathic starts cut through the rather chatty crowd behind the wide-eyed phalanx at the front.  There's incredible discipline, but its joyous and purposeful - Pfeffer's crooner vocals suggest stories and real narrative - and for all their dazzling musical skills and hard-boiled strangeness it's warm and approachable.  The contrasting passages of angularity and melody, occasional quiet tension bursting out into kicking ensemble Latin percussion is something absolutely nobody else does. Capillary Action are a gem, something to rush out and see whilst they're here (one of the first of those fantastic underground American avant rock bands actually over here while everyone else sticks to mainland Europe and anywhere else but the UK, for many understandable reasons). 
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