In many indie-rock circles, mentioning the name Cap’n Jazz will elicit a mixed response. The Chicago-based band defied convention and separated themselves so far from normal genres of music that it’s hard to describe them in any light. Although they only released one album, “Analphabetaology,” before breaking up, they have amassed a cult following and have spawned a number of successful bands from their ranks, including Joan of Arc, American Football and the Promise Ring.
In nearly any musical circle, to evoke the name of Steve Albini is equal to speaking of Stanley Kubrick to film fans. The producer of albums like Nirvana’s “In Utero,” Jawbreaker’s “24-Hour Revenge Therapy” and The Pixies’ “Surfer Rosa,” and the founding member behind legendary bands Big Black and Shellac has also achieved a cult following of his own.
To put the two together on a project would create big waves throughout the underground rock world. But that’s just what the two have done, Cap’n Jazz having retired their old moniker and recorded a new eponymous album under the name The Owls, with Albini producing.
The result is one of the freshest, newest sounding albums of the year. Powered by lyricist/singer/guitarist Tim Kinsella’s sometimes personal, sometimes nonsensical, yet always strangely poetic lyrics, the album is a sonic roller coaster with distorted, rocking ups and acoustic, melodic downs.
Backed by his brother, drummer Mike Kinsella, bassist Sam Zurilla and new friend Victor Villareal on guitar, Kinsella wails through eight-tracks of self-analysis, broken-heartedness and empty dreams. Much like fellow indie-rockers Pavement, and legendary lyricist Bob Dylan, to appreciate this band, one has to appreciate the unusual vocal stylings of the sometimes off-key but always honest singer.
The titles of songs reflect their surreal tones, with names like “I Want the Quiet Moments of a Party Girl,” “For Nate’s Brother Whose Name I Never Knew or Can’t Remember,” and “I Want the Blindingly Cute to Confide in Me.” Through the songs, the Owls put listeners through the wringer, making them often question, “Why am I still listening to this?” only to answer themselves, “For some reason, I can’t stop listening to this….”
Overall, the tones and tempos, breaks and beats are masterfully ruled by the man behind the buttons, Albini. Any band, including Bush (see “Razorblade Suitcase”) and Fred Schneider of the B-52s (“Just Say Fred”) would sound good under Albini’s control, regardless of talent. But The Owls have talent galore and when the two come together, the result is one of the best albums of 2001.
The Owls’ self-titled debut is available from Jade Tree Records, and samples of songs “Everyone is My Friend,” and “Life in the Hair Salon-Themed Bar on the Island” are available on the record label’s website at http://www.jadetree.com.