The excellent two-disc set Analphabetapolothology collects the entirety of the Cap'n Jazz oeuvre, assembling all of the singles and compilation tracks as well as unreleased eight-track demos and live material from their final show in their native Chicago.
I was surprised searching through the review archives that punknews.org did not have a review of Cap'n Jazz on record. Even though their discography came out in 1998, Cap'n Jazz, being one of the most influential indie/noise emo bands that has ever existed, should been written on if only to introduce new listeners to the roots. Cap'n Jazz essentially consisted of the current Owls lineup plus Davey VonBohlen later of Promise Ring fame. Members would later participate in bands such as Joan of Arc, American Football, Owen and Sky Corvair.
Back to the sound. Cap'n Jazz dominated the Chicago indie scene of the early nineties with Tim Kinsella's little kid voice, confusing word play, and rambling storytelling lyrics. Guitar and bass work was at times complex but often sounded sloppy on purpose, a rushed sense of urgency is conveyed to the listener. Drum work by Mike Kinsella keeps the chaos together and restrains the vocals and guitars from a life of their own. Cap'n Jazz as a whole is a sound that could never be replicated to the same success even later by 4 of the members together in the Owls. This sound at first seems inaccessible and to broad to enjoy but after a few listens anyone will begin to feel pumped up by rockin tracks like Oh Messy Life.
The most interesting aspect of Cap'n Jazz is probably Tim Kinsella's word play. Few songs have obvious logic or themes to them. Many include various plays on word aspects such as the rambling Flashpoint: Catheter's "I know you know traps ease. I know no trapeze." Some songs tell stories that seem to have no points and seem almost improvised except for how well they flow with the music. Kinsella's childish voice and occasional cracking screams add to the chaotic tenement of the band.
Back to the actual album. Jade Tree compiled one of the most satisfying and complete discography that has ever existed. The 2 cd set contains not only every song written by the band including unreleased demos but also a selection of songs from their final live performance and three covers of varying quality.
The first cd is much more listen able than the second and the first 12 tracks compromise the only full length release of the band's career. Little League, Oh Messy Life, Basil's Kite, and In The Clear will remain four of my favorite songs of all time. The whole compilation is worth these twelve tracks alone. In fact the whole emo genre of today is barely worth these 12 tracks alone. The first cd ends with 3 unreleased songs and two live tracks taken from their final show at the Fireside Bowl. These final tracks include a rockin cover of A-Ha's Take On Me and Tokyo a song that comes across almost as a spoken word session by Tim Kinsella.
The second cd of the set includes a large collection of songs off collections and split cds many not including all members of the group. This set is hard to listen to and doesn't flow well but is a treasure for collectors and any true fans. It includes strange variations on covers of 90210 and Winter Wonderland. Still this second cd contains some gems of pure Cap'n Jazz genius. Highlights include songs such as AOK, Rocky Rococo and Ooh Do I Love You.
Jade Tree should be mentioned for their quality good work in the collection of information and songs. The cd cover contains an opening from the band concerning their time together. Also complete lyrics and explanation of original releases of the songs are included alongside interesting cover art.
This album should belong to any fan of indie rock, emo, noise rock, punk rock, hell and independent music fan ought to at least listen to Cap'n Jazz. It is defiantly one of my top 5 albums of all time if not my favorite album ever released.
Cap’n Jazz need no introduction for most people on this site,
however for the less informed they are a seminal emo/noise band that
combines elements of pretty much every wave of emo music from Rights of Spring to Sunny Day Real Estate to The Get up Kids. Members of this band, most notably brothers Tim and Mike Kinsella, have gone on to form Make Believe, The Promise Ring, American Football, Owls, Ghosts and Vodka, Joan of Arc and Owen. Both We Are Scientists and Scary Kids Scaring Kids took their names directly from a Cap’n Jazz
song; needless to say they have been somewhat influential. Their heyday
came during the underground Chicago hardcore scene of the early
nineties, where they were separated from other bands of that scene
through singer Tim Kinsella’s girly pop punk vocals and story telling
style. Although the band split in July 1995, their Greatest Hits, if you
could call them as having had any hits, was released three years later
under the name Analphabetapolothology. This released allowed them
to gain more success than they ever achieved whilst as a working band.
Jade Tree Records did a great job assembling this collection which is to
my knowledge everything Cap’n Jazz ever released during their existence.
It is really quite difficult to really pin the sound of the band down.
Their music is at times reminiscent of the Mid West Emo scene and at
others more like the original emo bands like Embrace and Indian Summer.
Most of the songs are a chaotic amalgamation of so many different
styles of music. For the most part their music is played extremely
sloppily, especially during their more aggressive moments but this only
adds to the sound of the band. As well as aggression they are also
capable of melody in abundance, often using a lot of fast strumming on
clean chords in a similar fashion to Saetia. The guitars are
simply all over the place, overlapping constantly in a chaotic
concoction of hardcore noise, while all the while drummer Mike Kinsella
attempts to retain some form of order in their songs, which he is very
adept at doing. Its hard to say that the guitars are particularly
impressive seen as they are played in such a sloppy manner but its
something I find very unique about the band and really gives them a
sound which is their own. The songs feel simple whilst I’m listening to
them but at the same time it’s hard to really know what’s going on most
of the time. It is also claimed that Cap’n Jazz are a catchy
poppy band but this music is not accessible stuff, it takes a while to
appreciate for what it is and the DIY production values make this no
easy listen first time through.
The most interesting thing about the band for me and I would of thought
most other people is Tim’s vocals. Compared with his peers he sounds
like a small child attempting to sing in a hardcore band, yet
surprisingly it completely works. His lyrics and style often seem
improvised on the spot and he rarely sings in tune, yet it is the raw
emotion which shines through and hardcore was never meant to be in tune
anyway. Tim screaming voice has a subtle difference to his singing voice
most notably in that it sounds like a shrill scream of catharsis and
emotion where as his singing voice is deeper and slightly more melodic
yet not even vaguely in tune. He tries to tell a story with his lyrics
although many of them seem to mean very little or at least I can’t
decipher a meaning.
At an almighty thirty four songs in length I’m not going to bore you
with the details of every track, but ill let you in on some of my
favorites. Little League opens the collection and fades in with
some melodic chords and an opening scream of energy by Kinsella. The
lyrics are actually very strong, “Hey coffee eyes. You got me
coughing up my cookie heart. Making promises to myself. Promises like
seeds of everything I could be” although they are often hard to pick
up. The song has a great upbeat feel to it and the it sums up the bands
sound really well. The mellow break around two minutes in with the
overlapping vocals and the words, “Kitty kitty cat, kitty kitty cat, I'm feeling heavy”
might not seem to make an awful lot of sense but it sounds excellent
before the song bursts into an epic finale with Kinsella at his best
screaming over some frenzied drummer and distorted chords. Oh Messy Life is equally as amazing as its predecessor, the chorus is so catchy, I’ve had the lines, “And you are colder than oldness could ever be. and you are bolder than buzzing bugs,”
in my head all day after listening to this album. The song is heavier
and more aggressive than the previous song but it’s in my opinion
slightly superior. The guitars toss, turn and slice through two minutes
of punk brilliance, while the drumming is spot on as always. Basil’s Kite is a great indicator of the bands melodic side before it once again erupts after a mellow, slower beginning.
As I said at the start of this review most people will have heard Cap’n Jazz
amongst the internet music community but if you haven’t then take this
on with on open mind. It not polished and it’s not always an easy listen
but give it some time and like me you’ll hopefully grow to love it.
This is Punk at its finest and by rights it should of revolutionized the
emotive hardcore scene, however seen as hardcore and what is usually
considered emo are no longer on speaking terms it sadly looks likely to
fade away into obscurity.
Ben Greenbank sputnikmusic.com
This is, like, the dorkiest band. I mean, check out the picture below. Tim Kinsella started the band in 1989 with his younger brother Mike, who was just twelve years old (!) at the time. They were in high school. They should have sucked and fallen off the map, even in their native Chicago. They didn't, and they didn't.
Cap'n Jazz broke up in 1995. In 1998, Jade Tree Records released this, Analphabetapolothology, a 2-disc retrospective collecting all of the band's recorded output, including some unreleased studio and live recordings. And now, in 2010, fifteen years after the band's dissolution, Cap'n Jazz has reunited for some anniversary shows, continuing the recent trend of burying the hatchet to tour behind material released years earlier. It's gotta be for the money – how do musicians these days even make a living other than by touring? Downloading has made the album almost obsolete. (Crazy folk like myself enjoy the palpability of a release, but given the choice between shuffling through boxes full of CDs for what I want to listen to and the portability of most of my collection my iPod? It's an easy call.) And everybody's doing it – Pavement, Pixies, Soundgarden, My Bloody Valentine, The Vaselines – the list grows ever longer. So now that (relative) unknowns Cap'n Jazz are in the mix, who's next? New Radiant Storm King? Number One Cup? Rainer Maria? The Flying Karpophalous Family Trio?
Despite the question of the validity of the reunion, the heyday of Cap'n Jazz was highly interesting, mainly because the band was so young and was writing songs that went beyond what their capabilities should have been. There are a lot of "shoulds" so far – let me explain. The years 1989 to 1995 were littered with hard rock, grunge, and punk, and the small trickle of challenging underground music that made it through the dense web of self-important garbage found purchase in relatively few high school students, myself among them. So seeing local bands play anything but interesting and challenging music (and being part of some of them myself – though I'm not including Tetsuo's Head in that, thank you very much) left me with the impression that I was either in the wrong town (which was correct) or that I had to be older and wiser to understand how to compose more interesting music (which was not). Cap'n Jazz was young, sure, but their output was far from pedestrian.
There are quite a few descriptors that could peg the band sound-wise – indie, punk, post-punk – but there is a melodic quality to the music, even as the guitars are often distorted (though not highly compressed – the distortion is mostly dry, and is possibly even the guitar amps' built-in distortion). The composition is squiggly, squirrely, and non-linear, with barely a verse-chorus-verse structure to be found. The band barrels from one song part to the next, often changing tempo or time, and the guitar leads and chord changes are fairly advanced for this style of popular music. The energy level remains high throughout – you can imagine the band bouncing, jumping, or hopping in ecstacy on whatever stage they're playing (can you ecstatically hop?) – and a strong sense of youthful exuberance pervades the recordings. In fact, Tim Kinsella's voice is all youthful exuberance – there's very little restraint on it as he yelps over the songs, racing them to the finish line. When he's not yelping, he has a gravelly, conversational tenor, fitting in its nonchalance, but emotionally engaging nonetheless. Cap'n Jazz actually bears a great deal of resemblance to early Modest Mouse, who were just beginning to enjoy some notoriety as the former band was fizzling out. Both bands featured precocious, young musicians playing to equally young and ravenous audiences. Both had in-the-red, yelping (it's the most appropriate word, I'm gonna use it a third time) vocalists, and both played sorta sloppy but passionate, well-composed, instrument-attacking indie rock with slight hints of collegiate emo. Both have quirky and interesting lyrics, suggesting the songwriters are highly literate and well read, yet steeped in their local traditions. These are all good things.
Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards In The Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We've Slipped On and Egg Shells We've Tippy Toed Over - or, for those who don't want to trip over it, Schmap'n Schmazz.
And so this collection is a mostly-wonderful jaunt through Cap'n Jazz's career. Included is their lone full-length, the WTF-titled Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards In The Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We've Slipped On and Egg Shells We've Tippy Toed Over. Right. Makes Analphabetapolothology seem easy to say. Those in the know referred to it as Schmap'n Schmazz, which is equally goofy but more fun to spit at your friends. It's obviously the band's career pinnacle, and it features quite a few great songs worthy of repeat listens: "Little League," "Oh Messy Life," "Puddle Splashers," "In the Clear," and "Basil's Kite" come immediately to mind. Disc 1 concludes with outtakes, of which a cover of A-Ha's "Take On Me" is fairly intersting (hard to mess that song up), despite the questionable notes the vocals hit on the chorus. "Forget Who We Are" and "Olerud" are "new" songs taken from their final show in Chicago in 1995, hinting at a bright future the band would never realize. Disc 2 fairs less well, although it starts strong: "We Are Scientists!," "Sea Tea," and "Troubled by Insects" were released on the (here goes) Sometimes if you stand further away from something, it does not seem as big. Sometimes you can stand so close to something you can not tell what you are looking at seven inch. "Rocky Rococo," cute Beatles reference and all, sums up nerdy-high-school-kids-in-a-band life succinctly: "Please don't push! I'm so scared. Everybody's so good looking in the republic banana." There are a couple other decent songs before track 10, a version of "Winter Wonderland" that may be the worst thing I've ever heard. The rest of the collection sounds like demo takes, with terrible guitar and drum sounds. And they do the theme song to Beverly Hills 90210, straight up (with samples from the show). Sounds like they recorded it to a boombox though.
I can't believe I've gotten to the end without mentioning that Cap'n Jazz was essentially the launching pad for the entire Jade Tree and Polyvinyl rosters – if those labels decided to maintain a reasonable overhead, they could get by just from managing the backlist of all these offshoots: Joan of Arc, The Promise Ring, Make Believe, Friend/Enemy, Owls, Ghosts and Vodka, Maritime, American Football, Owen, and Vermont. It's a mouthful, much like the compilation title's fun with words, featuring variations on "anal," "alpha," "alphabet," "beta," "apology," and "anthology," each pointing to the housecleaning involved in rounding up this career retrospective. Why the apology is anyone's guess – but the band proved playful and brainy to the last, and Analphabetapolothology serves them quite well.
Cap'n Jazz aren’t the best band in the world. This is abundantly clear. Cap'n Jazz is a band that does not possess that much skill behind their instruments, and as a result, they sound rather sloppy. Cap'n Jazz also aren't the most emotional expressive band in the world. Their music is childish, immature, and would offend people that are looking deep into their music. In any traditional sense of musical definition or critiquing, Cap'n Jazz should have been an absurdly AWFUL band. However, Shmap’n Shmazz does indeed prove otherwise, as their immature, prepubescent attempts at hardcore and emo make that type of music not only fun, but legacy making.
The musicianship at hand works well. With pop punkish chords, rattling, messy hardcore drums, and hectic emo structures, Cap'n Jazz takes signatures of three different genres of punk, and essentially throws them into a melting pot and sees how they fit together later on. And you know what? It works! Occasional tweedles, gang vocals, and a saxophone are also brought into the mix, and admittedly it gets a bit overwhelming at times or at least seemingly so. However, despite that, Cap'n Jazz use that to their advantage, and this packing of ideals, this over-ambitiousness, makes their music all the more fun and exciting. "Bluegrassish" has a couple of folky hints, but proves to just be utterly silly, and rides right into the twiddly slower track "Planet Shhh". "Basil’s Kite" even incorporates a saxophone, albeit unexpectantly.
Mixed in with the upbeat chord oriented guitars and all around silliness are the vocals, the true focal point of the records appeal. His voice sounds strained, higher ranged, and he belts these absurd lyrics. From purring "kitty kitty kat kitty kitty kat" on "Little League", shouting the partial alphabet on what is otherwise the heaviest song in "In The Clear", talking about "boys kissing boys" on "Bluegrassish", surely this must be a kid. That, in essence, is the basic point of his existence. His shouts sound natural and throaty, while his singing voice is more of just a whimper, the cry of a pup even by comparison to his peers.
Which seals this point: Cap'n Jazz aren’t at all about power. Shmap’n Shmazz isn’t about power in voices, or true strength or emotionality. It’s stripped down, bare bones music in the best sense: it works. While they incorporate a lot of elements from all kinds of genres of punk, in the making of this it was probably not even looked over. Complex it is not, but if you want upbeat punches of mini-emo, than yes, Cap'n Jazz is about as good as it gets.
Joe Schmoh sputnikmusic.com
Remember the innocent days? Back when your largest problem was finding a way of winning a game of knockout on the old street? When there wasn't social networking potentially eating up everyone's day and instead you and all your friends invested time in your favorite game on the N64? Shmap'n Shmazz - in a way, kind of reminds me of that. Lighthearted, packed with energy, lyrics that (to the sane) don't make the least amount of sense, creative, and actually fun. Not "high-school prom" kind of fun. The honest to goodness race your friend to the next block, winner gets a dollar kind of fun. Cap'n Jazz had the intelligence in musicianship and still possessed that sense of spirit to create it. Ranging from the ages of nineteen to twenty two years old, a pair of brothers and close friends formed together and created a roller-coaster ride of an album. Almost as if it was their way of still embracing the times of being young and alive then and there and not really worrying about anything that may happen later on.
The album is colorful, alive, honest, and has just this insane sense of charm that can be a little weird at times but always feels right. Some may throw this album aside, claiming it to be immature or lame.. and yeah, it kind of is. But that's what I believe may make it so special for some, because similar to those old days on the street - honest emotions like this that glorify our adolescence may never be captured again.
Very Secretary's contribution to the Post Marked Stamps compilation demonstrated a new and slightly more acoustic sound for the group, which is more fully realized on Standing in the Shade. This album plants itself firmly in the realm of delicate, occasionally melancholy pop tunes, with deep and longing violin lines threading their way through the group's whispery guitar constructions.
It's a release that might not find a lot of love outside of the indie-pop community, but one that fans of Kissing Book, Motion Picture, the Lucksmiths, or the more pensive end of Sarah Records pop will doubtlessly enjoy.
I had such a hard time writing this review. I sat for an hour staring at the screen, rubbing my temples and stealing sporadic looks at the ceiling. I guess it's just my fear of saying "this album sucks" by who I used to think of as one of the very greatest bands in the autumn/winter of 99. (keep in mind I reside in koala land) But here goes. After much waiting and much anticipation, I received a call from the store to pick up Very Secretary's latest. You might've read other reviews comparing the sounds of this record to that of Elliot Smith. I could pretend and say, "Hell yeah! It's sooo Elliot Smith, don't you think?" But I've not heard enough of Elliot Smith to make that comparison. Once upon a time I did have a listen to Mr Smith and I classified him under [Boring]. But Standing In The Shade is far from boring. Yes, it sucks but it's not boring. Over the last couple of days, these 10 tracks had my mind fluctuating back and forth. The 1st time "Feeling Cheated" invaded my ear drums, instantaneously I thought The Beatles' Norwegian Wood. Nothing wrong with The Beatles of course but something's very wrong with David Johnson's vocals. It just didn’t match the flowing rythmic accoustics. It's like they decided to cut and paste certain guitar layers here and there and just added vocals and un-rhyming lyrics. (not that rhyming is important) But it felt like certain tracks were incomplete and with some seeming to go on forever but ending very abruptly just when you start to get the hang of it. I guess I was expecting more clones of Nakargot. (which appeared in the fall 98 sampler / tree records post marked stamps comp. cd etc) Politic, however, has got me hitting the repeat button. And humming along unconsciously. It has a simple yet clever structure differentiating the secretaries from any other "accoustic" band with violins. It's not that bad an album, really. Just not very emergency. File this together with your Rainer Marias and American Footballs. And oh, Elliot Smith of course.
Melancholy indie-pop outift Very Secretary was formed in Champaign-Urbana, IL in March of 1997 by singer/guitarist Dave Johnson, his bassist brother Allen, guitarist Tim Adamson and ex-Braid drummer Roy Ewing. Following the group's 1998 debut, Best Possible Souvenir, Adamson left the line-up and was replaced by violinist Rachael Dietkus, heralding an even more lush, mournful sound first glimpsed on "Nagarkot," Very Secretary's contribution to Tree Records' Postmarked Stamps singles series. The band's sophomore LP, the lovely Standing in the Shade, appeared in mid-1999, but while touring the following spring, Very Secretary disbanded.
All Music Guide
Seldom (damn near never) does a band come out of an incestuous and trendy scene like the Midwest's indie-emo-pop culture and do something so remarkably different from their peers and label mates as Very Secretary has. Although remaining part of the tight-knit group, VS operates on the other end of the spectrum from pals like Braid (Roy Ewing's old band) and the Promise Ring (with whom Rachael Dietkus has collaborated). The difference is duly noted and overwhelmingly appreciated. Standing in the Shade marks Very Secretary's return to a quartet with the departure of guitarist Tim Adamson. This album also showcases the complete inclusion of Dietkus' violin which is used with amazing cohesion alongside the standard rock three piece to create a very nonstandard sound. Using the violin is an old trick in indie rock but VS incorporate the bow and strings so flawlessly that it is almost unnoticed within the composition. "Sister Psyche" weaves seamlessly through three and a half minutes of sound that is at the same time somber and rejoiceful, quietly overriding David Johnson's softly sung vocals. The entire album is more acoustic feeling than last year's Best Possible Souvenir and the super slow burn of "Countryless" gives a taste of the ultra-subdued sound that VS seem to be heading toward. Taken with their nearly non-existent tour schedule, the richness and complexity of Very Secretary's music could limit them to a life of obscurity in today's hook-laden, radio friendly indie rock world but will undoubtedly ensure them much deserved respect from those who happen to find them, myself included.
This mellow indie pop debut from Very Secretary is an extremely downbeat, minimal demonstration of vocalist/guitarist (and cover illustrator) David Johnson's many artistic abilities both in and out of the musical realm. The strikingly clean guitar work is the first thing most listeners will notice, as Johnson layers well-constructed chords and melodies into seven tracks of melancholy that move just enough to evade a sadcore label, but without any of the punk or rock leanings of emo - something like a medicated version of Castor. The first of only two albums, Best Possible Souvenir lacks the dynamic edge of Very Secretary's superior follow-up, Standing in the Shade, but Johnson's expressive songwriting, guitar work, and especially his nuanced vocals (an acquired taste) make this debut an interesting underground find. Music fans who adore the dreamy side of Midwestern indie rock will admire this simple, elegant release.
Jason Anderson allmusic.com
There is something unique with Very Secretary, like an emo version of slowcore with occasional interesting math-rock rhythms and a rural summer quality. But at the same time, their music never becomes completely or totally extraordinary. "Best Possible Souvenir" was their debut album and is more tense and dynamic than their second and final record, "Standing on the shade". It sounds very close to American Football and Gloria Record debut ep's but without song as strong as theirs. Maybe it's a minor record but there is something unusual in their sound, something that could have been developed much more. The melancholic tension on "Under a rug" is just moving but never totally reach the potential hidden under the appearance. There are strong moments on this record but not as refined as they could have been.
Once that said, I have to admit that I keep coming back to this record for their unusual warm and emotional fever, and probably there are no better proof of quality than that.
Often something imperfect transmits an unexpected sincerity and truth, and by that way become precious.