Band of the Day: Capital Punishment

Posted by Greg on Sep 21, 2018 in Music |

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Last week something kind of important was released in the music world. Capital Punishment’s debut full-length Roadkill, originally released in 1982, finally saw a more proper release, courtesy of Captured Tracks. The name Capital Punishment might be new to you, but its drummer certainly isn’t. It is none other than Hollywood funny guy Ben Stiller.

Yep, back in 1979, Stiller formed a band with three other teenagers who also shared an interest in Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle and Brian Eno. Roadkill was released sans label and sure enough each of the band members went on to productive lives. Peter Swann became a future Supreme Court Justice for Arizona, Peter Zusi became a professor of Slavic Studies and Kris Roebling is a musician and documentarian whose family built the Brooklyn Bridge. Not bad for a bunch of high school weirdos, huh? Makes you wonder what your high school’s garage band stoners are up to now, eh? As for the album, it is home-spun, lo-fi and truly DIY post-punk, industrial, ambient noise. There’s a heavy dose of Eno throughout, but the industrial influences are felt from the very first seconds.

The near six-minute opener “Necronomicon” features a series of bells, whistles, TV clips, bagpipes, a sitar and drums. Yep, it’s that kind of weird. The title track is more streamlined and is lo-fi garage pop that is equal parts trippy, off-kilter and downright bonkers. Much like the opener there’s a bevy of ambietn noises, keyboards clacking and computer blips and bleeps. There’s also nonsensical yammering and at this point it begins to feel like an album that might require copious amounts of soft drugs.

The first song with coherent vocals is the gnomic “Confusion” a wonky slice of British post-punk that is equal parts, cheery, eerie and irresistible. Vocalist Kris Roebling sings in a faux British accent and the entire thing swerves along like a b-side of The Cure. Easily the most melodic, catchy and accessible song on the album, “Confusion” is the sound of a band that might have been on the precipice of something quite profound.

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A thumping bass guitar opens the turbulent psych-funk cut “Muzak Anonymous.” There’s a danceable vibe throughout but the vocals are rough-hewn and the entire thing comes off hurried, raw and unfiltered. Heck it even sounds like off-Broadway performance art at times. For the first time, “Muzak Anonymous” reminds you that you are in fact listening to a bunch of teenagers banging around to their hearts abandon.

The two-minute “All Just in Passing” features circular guitar and sounds like long lost REM (think Radio Free Europe) and of all the instrumentals on the album this might take the cake as the most polished, the most clear-headed and the most fully realized.

Roebling’s faux British accent returns on “Delta Time” a paean to garage pop that features copious amounts of guitar noodling and a heavy wallop of urgency. Delta Time also marks the end of the album’s Side A and while it might already sound like a crazy head trip, there’s still a whole lot of weird waiting to be heard.

“Creatures of the Dark (Night)” is another eerie slab of post-punk that has tinges of industrial and some seriously strong guitar work. A haunting organ introduces the near-perfect “Cosmos” and the organ-heavy instrumental has a spiritual and pivotal nature to it that lingers long after the final second.

Easily the album’s most bizarre effort is “John’s Forgotten Land (Parts 1, 2 and 3)” a near 8-minute foray into the weird, warped and downright ominous sensibilities of these kooky teens. Trying to describe the song is almost difficult but imagine a midnight showing of a John Carpenter film and add a ton of soft drugs and you might just be in the ballpark of the wonky heights of “John’s Forgotten Land.”

Roadkill ostensibly concludes with “Necronomicon (Reprise)” a percussive and claustrophobic conclusion that is dark, damp and surprisingly inviting. Two bonus tracks finish off the album and they remain the band’s strongest efforts to date.

The 1979 cut “Waiting to See You” features circular guitar work, accessible vocals and a sentiment that is sweetly affecting. From start to finish, there’s something about “Waiting to See You” that feels like it might have made a dent had it received proper attention. Ditto for the 1983 cut “Helen” a frantic frolic into Brit-rock territory that features engaging vocals, amiable guitars and a veneer that is sun-drenched and brimming with optimism.

Those sentiments remind us that high school garage bands often result in productive and approachable citizens. Who knew?


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