Review Summary: Shut up, shut up, shut up.
As of September 28 (39 weeks into the year), there have only been five songs to top the Billboard Alternative charts. Amongst those five songs are Muse's "Madness", "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons, "Sweater Weather" by The Neighbourhood, "Royals" by Lorde and "Safe and Sound" by Capital Cities. Out of all of those songs, "Safe and Sound" might just be the most un-alternative of them all. One could argue that Billboard charts are complete rubbish (and frankly, most of the time, they are), but regardless, I've heard many people label Capital Cities as "alternative" or "indie rock". None of those terms are accurate to describe the duo of Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian, who make synthpop and electronica. But labeling Capital Cities as an "alternative" or "indie rock" group makes them seem trendy or "cool" to listen to, when in reality they aren't that much different from your average pop group.
Just like your average pop group, the album is just completely bland, with not much substance to either Merchant's vocals or the instrumental works. It's clear that Capital Cities' quirks are limited to trumpets and synths, and after the first three tracks, everything goes downhill. "Safe and Sound" was chosen to be the opening track, and it's easy to see why. Some of its lyrics may be a bit stupid (the "hurricane of frowns" sticks out to me the most), but it's got a catchy chorus, nice synth riff, and that's all I expect from these guys. But if my standard for Capital Cities are on "Safe and Sound"-level, then I'm only expecting nothing but above-average pop fare. "Patience Takes Us Nowhere Fast" is just as good though, with nice verses, and a big dance-able hook, and it comes without the silly lyrics that "Safe and Sound has. "Kangaroo Court" is a great track reminiscent of the 80's pop scene, with a pulsating synth riff that radiates around the song (although the girl voice randomly stating "I don't do sexy" kind of kills the vibe).
It's clear that Capital Cities have run out of ideas within the opening three tracks, and the rest of the album is filled with such lifeless, vapid songs that none of them stick out after repeated listens. Ryan Merchant's limited vocal range and weak delivery really wears the album down, and on songs like "I Sold My Bed, But Not My Stereo", they're more cringe-worthy than appealing. "Farrah Fawcett Hair" at least tries to be unique, but ends up falling flat on its pretentious face. NPR's Frank Tavares' opens the song by stating "Support for Capital Cities comes from... Lazy Hooks", and the track's attempt at irony fails mainly because the song's hook is
lazy; it's repetitive (and "good ***" is not a line that you want repeated), and it's musically stale.
That's what In a Tidal Wave of Mystery
is; an inane attempt at bringing synthpop to the popular masses. Most of these songs are way too polished for their own good, with all the layers of synths and trumpet horns hurting them rather than helping them. The one standout track in the album's latter half is "Tell Me How to Live", and that's because there are actual guitars being played in the background. Some may say that Capital Cities don't need to make good music, because they already have a wide audience of pop fans, misguided hipsters who listen to this album because of its "indie" tag, and synth nuts. But until Merchant and Simonian actually make an album worth remembering, I'll stick with "Safe and Sound" and "Patience..." for now.