Capital Sons Rose-Colored World

by Richard Thomas

This cd arrived in our mail with the handwritten note, “Hello, we’re an established indie rock band from NE Mpls … “ I put it on with a bit of dread, expecting something slow, echoey, whiny and depressing. Instead what I got was slick, fast and upbeat. It’s closer to the pop rock found on FM radio, except for once you wouldn’t dive to change the channel. Only thing indie about it is the lead singer, Karl Obermeyer, sounds kind of like Eddie Vedder with the roughness polished out.

The band has been kicking around the Twin Cities for over a decade and this is their fourth album (first in five years) so who can blame them for the slickness? They got their act together. The performance is so tight it seems they practiced for five years before recording. The production itself is clear and resonant while using distortion judiciously. 

It’s described as “guitar-driven rock,” though I’d say the strongest drive comes from Mike Jueneman’s drumming, which propels the music along and provides great fills without being overly showy. Rick Paukert’s lead guitar is virtuoso but he keeps it in service of the songs. John Tetrault fills it out with multilayered work on both keys and bass. Mostly, though, this is Obermeyer’s show as lead singer/songwriter. He has a passionate voice that slides between baritone and tenor, from Vedder to Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms.

The band does have a ‘90s vibe, but it’s not overly derivative. The infectious pace of the opening track, “Fugitive,” is a cross between “Even Flow” and “Hey Jealousy.” The frenetic pace continues through the most of the album’s 11 tracks, uncharacteristically slowing down at the end for a shuffling, medium-paced remake of Led Zeppelin’s originally frenetic “Immigrant Song.” (How did they get the rights? Maybe Page and/or Plant approved.)

The second track, “Pollyanna,” provides the album’s title with the line, “Used to call her Pollyanna because she always wore rose-colored glasses.” It’s about a once-cheerful girl gone sad. (“Oh, how we miss Pollyanna / We could use a dose of her laughter / Rainbows, unicorns, Jedi masters.”) Most of the lyrics are rueful or about longing (In “Something to Grasp” he sings, “Cold and lonesome on a Midwest winter’s eve / You’re probably somewhere the trees never lose their leaves”) but you couldn’t tell that from the music.

“Anchor” is the token ballad aimed at making the ladies in the audience swoon, assuming they won’t roll their eyes over the sappy lyrics (“I’ll be your bright light when darkness ensues / To carry you away from a world that can be cruel”). But a good band can carry a tune over most objections, so I won’t jump on this song’s case too much. 

“Mexico” is the hardest rocking song, apparently about getting busted south of the border (“All you had to do was hide it beneath your clothes / All you had to do was go high and go home / But it’s never as easy as your conscience claims / And the view from inside the stone just ain’t the same.”) Being a prison song it of course has a harmonica, played by Obermeyer, but he shows decent skills on this and other songs.

It’s hard dislike this band, though in indie terms, that may be the problem: They’re too accessible! Indie’s appeal is that you get to like music that most people hate or just don’t get, and therefore you get to be part of an exclusive clique built around it. Capital Sons isn’t hard to get and they don’t provide the catharsis of intensely dark music. They’re fun and they’re not stupid. You can’t hate them for that.

From left: John Tetrault, Rick Paukert, Karl Obermeyer, Mike Jueneman.
From left: John Tetrault, Rick Paukert, Karl Obermeyer, Mike Jueneman.