Review Summary: Constantly on the verge of making an impression, but lacking in creativity.
The story of The Capsules’ formation is an intriguing one. A guy and a girl who started writing music together in high school fell in love and got married, and at an age where most people are just beginning to figure out their lives, Jason and Julie Shields were already professional musicians. Signed to a label and to each other, the duo started touring with famous acts such as The Flaming Lips, Garbage, Mercury Rev, and Low. After adding a skilled drummer in Kevin Trevino, they went on to release three albums prior to their most recent, earning a modest but dedicated following in the process. With forward momentum working in their favor, The Capsules have now dropped Northern Lights & Southern Skies
– an intriguing departure from their prior efforts. Whereas the band’s first three albums were rooted in traditional indie and folk practices, Northern Lights & Southern Skies
sees them leave their instruments behind in favor of electronic beats and synthesizers – yielding fascinating but ultimately mixed results.
The album’s opening punches are admittedly strong. ‘Across the Sky’ and ‘From the Start’ boast dense atmospheres and contrasting tempos that ebb and flow like the first two tracks of a good electronic album should. Julie Shields delivers memorable melodies and catchy hooks, even on the dark and fuzzy ‘Our Apocalypse’ and the urgent, paranoid sounding ‘With Signs Repeating.’ For a while, it almost seems like Northern Lights & Southern Skies
will bedazzle us for its entire duration. However, the novelty of The Capsules’ electronically-driven sound wears off fast.
By the album’s midsection, you will begin to hear recycled bass loops, similar sounding electronic beats, and resultantly, songs that are all homogenous. The simplistic beats and forgettable vocal melodies on tracks like ‘Where It All Begins’ and ‘All At Once’ leave a lot to be desired, and they bear too strong of a resemblance to all the other dime-in-a-dozen electronic popularity wave surfing bands out there. The Capsules struggle to rectify this issue straight across the board, with the only possible exception coming when they grind to a complete halt, allowing Julie’s mesmerizing vocals to lull you into a trance. ‘The Heartbreaker’ is a passable attempt at this, but the closing track ‘Magnetic Fields’ is where they really get it right. Isolated and cold, it evokes no particularly sad feeling, but rather a distance from emotion altogether. In the end, it proves that The Capsules are at their best when Shields dictates the pace, because the electronic soundscapes that the band has opted for aren’t complicated or structured enough to stand on their own.
Trapped between the otherworldliness of its lush atmospheres and an inability to deviate from electro-pop clichés, Northern Lights & Southern Skies
is an album that constantly finds itself on the verge of making an impression. While it certainly has its moments, the vast whole suffers from a lack of variety. The successful approach of the album’s first few tracks is employed again and again, resulting in a would-be solid record that is simply stretched too far for its own good. There is something to be said about creating an “album atmosphere”, but The Capsules end up pigeonholing their sound in the name of consistency. Perhaps in the future, they will incorporate some of the indie/alternative influences that were so prevalent across their first three records – or at least find a way to branch out within the electronic approach that they appear to have unanimously adopted. The Capsules have certainly presented us with a decent album for the time being, but until they find ways to expand upon Northern Lights & Southern Skies
, they will never rise above the pack.