When I first heard Capitol Years in the spring of 2001, I was more than a little taken with Shai Halperin’s one-man lo-fi symphony, which melded together various strands of the indie rock underground. “Meet Yr Acres” didn’t break new ground for indie rock, but its charms were straightforward and immediately winning, melody and lyric grafted together in a clever and enduring formula that encompassed an impressive array of tempos and textures. Whatever he was doing, I didn’t want him to change it. With “Jewelry Store,” he does exactly that.
His first release with a full band in tow, Halperin has dropped most of the lo-fi charm of his debut, here dipping his artistic toes in the garage rock that is the style du jour of the moment. He now looks the part, complete with denim jacket, Bono rock star sunglasses, and a bemused rock star profile. What is somewhat surprising, then, is just how successfully he and his new bandmates pull off the transition over the EP’s six songs, never sounding like the opportunists that some might accuse them of being but turning in what is darn near the pace-setter for the movement in 2003.
Pulsing power chord swagger blows through the gatefold on the opening “Jet Black,” announcing the band with early Kinks swagger. The wild pounding rhythms, howled vocals, and guitar solo freak-outs give the track a distinctly unfettered charm. No doubt, some of these tracks could be passed off as Strokes outtakes, with the somewhat disinterested vocals and big choruses of “Lucky Strike,” which marry Chuck Berry and the groove-oriented side of the Velvet Underground. Still, underneath the occasional glammy bluster and visceral volume, Halperin’s impeccable pop hooks remain, sounding altogether cleaner, tighter, and more focused than his previous work.
Even if he sounds like Iggy Pop fronting Thin Lizzy on the menacingly plodding title track, he manages to sneak in a few unexpectedly ear-catching melodic passages to lighten the sonic load. Much like Brendan Benson, who has also found a fulltime supporting band, Halperin seems to have grown comfortable dressing up his pop hooks with a more dynamic rock punch, dropping lines like “I want to be clean, but I don’t want to wash away” on the flamboyantly strutting “River Raid” and hitting a unrelentingly enveloping guitar groove for “Train Race.” Appropriately, the latter track devolves around its central riff until it crawls to a slow death knell in a concluding stir of feedback that rattles through your speakers.
So, it’s not exactly a disappointment that Shai Halperin has decided to make a head-bobbing, no-frills, full-on rock record. I would have accepted (and most likely applauded) a sophomore release that continued in its predecessor’s steps, filled to the brim with more genre-blending, lo-fi mastery. But that also would have been what I expected, and good artists don’t give their audience what they expect; they continue to challenge, change, and transform themselves into what best fulfills their artistic predilections. Here, Capitol Years do exactly that.
Written by Matt Fink.