This Is Hazelville
aptain are a five-piece band from London who have two great assets: songs aided by the interplay of two vocalists, and the production talents of Trevor Horn. Rik Flynn and Clare Szembek are a vocal duo of sour and sweet—he has the more commanding presence, but her softer tones give color and shade. Solo, the former sounds a bit blustery, and the latter a touch slight and girlish, but because the band’s songwriting and Horn’s production accentuate their combined strengths well, This Is Hazelville is an engaging, interesting debut.
"Hazelville" opens in a somewhat cinematic fashion. Its tinkling pianos and keyboards briefly yield to chugging riffs and loud hooks—both in the guitars and the singing. It takes a while to get going, but once it does, it’s terrific stuff—kinetic and crashing, but also melodically delicate.
A flurry of singles follows—"Glorious" kicks the album into gear, stretching one syllable as far as it can possibly go amid washes of symphonic keyboard and "Broke" is all confident swagger and strut. Power pop is very much the genre being tilled here—elsewhere there are hints of Prefab Sprout and even gauzy Kevin Shields-esque guitars. Last year's teaser "Frontline" is different—and a highlight—the delirious, dreamy chorus melody would have been good enough on its own, but it's augmented with more strident vocal lines from Flynn to counteract Szembek's shimmering, floating delivery.
At worst, Captain sound like a twee indie pop group with great production. It’s particularly good on headphones, as various elements on some songs are split between the channels. The songwriting, for the most part, doesn’t lag, and beyond the accessible singles, the album hides some of its best songs in the middle. "This Heart Keeps Beating For Me" may be the pick, with its finger-clicking rhythm, sneaking, loping guitar riff and brassy, bold chorus all being worthy of mention.
"Wax" is just as good, boasting lovely fuzzing bass and a central riff composed of half ineptly bashed piano and half meticulously arranged keyboard. Horn's production here is dense and lush—rather than just minimal bass and drums, there are squiggles of sonic color scattered throughout—with blasts of guitar, tracks and tracks of vocals, and an overdone guitar rock-out (vaguely reminiscent of early Smashing Pumpkins to these ears) ending the song in epic style.
Generally, the more expansive and spacy the production, the better it sounds, and the comparatively weak songs are few. “East West North South” is a bit clumsy and leaden, with a chorus that lacks the tunefulness that’s in abundance elsewhere, and “Build a Life” may just be a touch too twee. But these are few and slight as far as letdowns go, and the attractive soundscapes make them go by pleasantly enough.
Despite the occasional aimless shuffle or awkward dynamic moment, the majority of This Is Hazelville is entertaining, hooky rock. Captain have melodic smarts and ambition and their first album is a good fulfillment of their promise.
Reviewed by: Edward Oculicz
Reviewed on: 2006-09-25