A Hipster Apocalypse: Review of Captain Algebra’s Debut CD and Live Show

Faithful readers, both of you, will recall I wrote an article about a local band (Southwest Washington scene) some time back. Now, I have often lamented on the rise and fall of the “Seattle Sound” or, more specific, the Washington Grunge scene.

I was a teen in the ’90s, in Southwest Washington. I look back on it now and realize just how amazing that was. At the time, it was just life. But I saw Mudhoney in concert at the Capitol Theater Backstage – with less than one hundred other people. I met members of Grunttruck and Green River/Mother Love Bone/Pearl Jam – I even met Andy Wood of Mother Love Bone before he died – I was 12, and he treated me like an adult. I will always remember that.

I saw Modest Mouse perform in The Matrix Coffeehouse in Chehalis, Washington, almost five years before they became a hit band. Sleater-Kinney, The Crabs, Beck, The Melvins, Death Cab for Cutie, MXPX – the list of bands that became big, or were influential in the grunge/alternative scene, that I saw perform live in small, smoke-filled venues as a teen goes on and on.

And then, it went away. It was like a switch was flipped somewhere – the scene was overhyped and strip-mined by big record labels and suddenly it was gone. Punk had become grunge, grunge became alternative, and alternative was suddenly mainstream and poppy, and the next thing I knew what they called “alternative” was what I called “mainstream college rock.”

The music was still there, but the scene had lost the spark. The dozens of clubs and coffeehouses that sprang up during the rise of the scene died out. Replaced by Starbucks and chain restaurants. The music went back to being underground.

So, it was with some real shock that I first encountered Captain Algebra. Their oldest member wasn’t even born when I first saw The Melvins live. When I walked into The Matrix and first spotted them, I asked Rick, the man behind the counter, who they were. He leaned in and said, “Would you believe high school kids from Olympia?”

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No, I wouldn’t. High School kids don’t play this kind of music. They don’t even know it exists – right?

What kind of music, you ask?

Grunge. Punk. Sludge. Dirty, wet, distorted guitar. Throbbing bass riffs that almost take the lead. A drummer trying to hit every head on his set all at once. Lyrics that are monotone, often mumbled, and sometimes nonsensical – punctuated by a throaty, gravelly scream now and then.

Their live show convinced me to buy their self-printed 5 song CD. Both prompted me to write my original article. The article prompted Jack McQuarrie, singer and bassist, to ask if I would review their full-length debut album and another live show. I eagerly agreed.

capalgebra!

 

First of all, let’s talk about the CD. It has all the marks of the classic punk/grunge self-published LP. Hand-drawn cover? Check. Tongue-in-cheek title? Check. Goofy song names? “Yoga Dog” “Sasquatch Eats Free” – Check.

But it isn’t what is outside that we look for. It’s what is on the inside. And what is on the inside is ten songs, for a total of 29 minutes in length. You just did the math in your head, right? That averages to 2 minutes, 56 seconds per song. For some of you, you are thinking, “They are kind of short.” The punk fans out there are thinking, “Man, how did they manage to squeeze an average extra 56 seconds in each song?”

The answer to both of you is: the songs are just right. Each one is sludgy and rhythmic. There may not be any radio hits in here, but there aren’t any misses, either. You know from the first song to the last what their sound is, there is no sense of trying to find their place – which is often the case with a debut album. It is pure angst mixed with grime packaged into a half-hour of bobbing your head and wishing you had someone or something to headbutt just…well, just because you remember that, in your youth, that was pretty fun to do in the heat of the moment.

If any one aspect of the CD stands out over the others, it is the bass riffs. Not because they are especially complex, or because they are too loud, but simply because the members of Captain Algebra have recognized that the way Jack plays bass makes for a good lead instrument. When he needs to, Taylor Pfeil can take lead on his guitar, and he does it with more skill than you might expect from a punk band, or from someone so young. But, he doesn’t need to, and he doesn’t force it. Each song stands on its own, each one showing the strengths of the members.

Drummers often don’t get their due – there seems to be this idea that “anyone can hold a beat.” I grew up the son of a drummer and I can tell you this isn’t true. Brodey Ristine doesn’t attempt to Neil Perth anything, but without his steady beats and percussive counterpoints, the songs fall apart. He get his chance to showcase his skills as well, but you get the sense in listening that he is holding back. He doesn’t overdo any of the breaks, and he could.

This is the overall sense you get when listening to the entire album: each member can do more with their instruments than they are, but they know they don’t need to. In fact, it would detract from the overall quality of the CD if any one member stood out over the others. They are a band, and perform as a team. Sadly, Brodey is heading off for college, so the band is looking to fill the void – but, for now, they are a team.

This translates well into the live show.

IMG_20140802_210656[1]I didn’t get a chance to meet the other members of the band, but I did speak with Jack at some length at the show. Jack is an interesting example of the punk musician – an example that often bears out in the community. Off the stage he is soft-spoken, a little shy, and walks with a bit of a slump as if to minimize the chance someone will see him. Even when playing on stage, he often turns from the audience and focuses solely on his bass. Jack appears to prefer to speak through his instrument – and when he does, he screams for the world to hear.

It is funny, with some bands it is absolutely required they have an electrifying, almost frantic, stage presence. But Captain Algebra is still trying to find its footing on how to act when on stage. Fortunately, their music delivers the emotion and speaks for them.

When they get up there, Jack quietly introduces them to the audience, looking down while speaking softly into the microphone. The members look at each other, talk for a second, and then launch into the first song. They progress from song to song, with little fanfare or interaction with the audience.

Yet the audience is into it. Heads are bobbing. One person, a member of the final band for the night, is desperately trying to not mosh with someone – anyone. He’s bouncing his head and feet, hopping back and forth. He wants to do something – anything – with this throbbing music. I envy him his youth – ten years ago, I would be right beside him, and we’d be hurting each other and grinning.

A group of people sits nearby – clearly there to see one of the other bands and uncomfortable with the music. They are comprised of several people my age or older who keep giving each other glances that speak volumes, “What is this?” “They call this music?”

But then the two younger people with them look back at me bobbing my head and furiously taking notes. One grins and shyly throws up the horns.

Message received: Mom and Dad don’t get this music, but we do.

Captain Algebra’s set lasts about as long as their CD. It starts quick, with little fanfare, but ends with the small crowd cheering. The band mates flash cheeky grins and exit the stage, after a quick and quiet announcement that they have t-shirts and CDs for sale.

The next band to come on stage pauses to seek out the band and congratulate them. It isn’t just professional courtesy – it was obvious from the first riff that Captain Algebra had captured the attention of their peers.

Outside, I talk with the singer of the opening band, a group that describes itself as “glam-psych-pop” (a heady mixture of happy lyrics and toe-tapping rhythm that I hope to write more about when I get a chance to). I casually remark how it is amazing to live in an area where I can see glam-psych-pop, grunge/punk, and alternative all in one night in one venue. He replies, “I know. Aren’t they great?” It takes me a second to realize he is talking about Captain Algebra. I say, “All of you are.” He nods and grins.

So, go check out their Facebook page, their reverbnation page, and look for a show near you.

Their music has made it into my playlist, and onto my youtube channel – and a segment of this clip made it onto a video game podcast this morning, so they have officially reached an “international” audience of thousands.

 

Butterfly in the sky…

It is no secret that every writer becomes a writer because of their love for reading. It is also no secret that most people develop a love for reading at an early age, usually from adults reading to them until they can learn how to read on their own. This is how it was for me.

My father and mother read to me from the beginning, and I began reading on my own by the age of four. I read my first novel, “The Hobbit”, by myself by five – after my father had read it to me dozens of times, doing the voices and singing the songs.

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“The Operators” (~500 words)

This is just something I tossed off for fun in reference to kids who think video games or airsoft is analogous to the real military.

Al Taqqadum was sunny that day. That might not sound surprising to you, but it was a refreshing change from the three-day sandstorm we just experienced. The sand got into everything. Our clothes, our hair, orifices we didn’t know we had. My M4 had sand in cracks Colt didn’t know they designed into the damned thing. I just finished cleaning it for the third time and cursed my luck for the fourth time – more sand. Oh well, too late now. We had a patrol to get to and I still needed to go over my truck.

My PMCS was interrupted by a commotion behind me. My fellow soldiers had stopped what they were doing and a veritable din of awe-inspired muttering arose. I turned to see what the big deal was.

There they were, strutting down the dirt path that passed for a road, heads held high. Their steely eyes passed over us as if we weren’t there. It was a fitting tribute, honestly. Compared to them, we were ants.

I had heard of these people before – the ones we just called “Them” or, when we were being really specific, “The Operators”. Today was the first day I spotted one, let alone an entire squad of them. They were easy to pick out. Their gear was immaculate. None of that military-issue stuff. No, this came from a catalog – or maybe a sporting goods store. Their headsets blended in with their forest-green camo paint. An odd choice for the desert, but who was I to argue with professionals?

One of them stopped and looked at me as they passed. Oh shit, I thought, he caught me staring.

He brushed a speck of dust from his weapon and looked me up and down.

“Teh fuk r u lookin at, n00b?” He demanded, his jowls flapping majestically around the words.

“N-n-nothing, sir.” I sputtered.

“Fucking faggit. Wat do u mean, nothing? That’s not what ur mom said last nite, lol, fag!”

“Of course, sir.”

He spat on my face. I didn’t move or flinch – I didn’t want him to have any confirmation that I was the worthless soldier he suspected. It ran down my cheek. I could smell Mountain Dew and morning breath. The smell of death.

Without another word, he turned to catch up with his squad. Fortunately for him they had become winded from the walk and were taking a breather a few feet away.

“Lulz, u rekt that fag!” One of them wheezed.

“Fuckin ezmode newbs.” Another echoed, both of his chins bouncing in agreement.

My squad leader ordered us to mount up. I jumped in the turret of my truck and prepared for another grueling day on patrol. But this day, I knew, things would be different. There was a new spring in my step. I could do it, I thought. I really could.

I wish I could find those airsoft warriors and their Call of Duty squadmates and thank them for the confidence they gave me. Just witnessing their majesty was enough to give me the morale boost I needed to survive that war.

But such is not my fate. I don’t deserve to see such prime examples of the human ideal. I didn’t deserve it that day, either, but I was blessed nonetheless.

Today is the last day you can legally view Colonel Chris Hadfield’s rendition of “Space Oddity” by David Bowie

In case you were living in a cave this last year and missed it, Colonel Chris Hadfield, former Commander of the International Space Station, who was a well-known internet celebrity and utilized social media to draw attention to space exploration, made a cover of “Space Oddity” and posted it on YouTube, with permission from David Bowie’s People.

Unfortunately, that permission was only for one year.  Today is the last day to view this spectacular video, unless a change is made.  So take five minutes and enjoy it while you can.

As Colonel Hadfield detailed in a recent Reddit post:

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Something different: Spotlighting a local band, “Captain Algebra”

Full Disclosure: The members of Captain Algebra have no idea who I am or that I am writing this.  But I feel like I owe them some exposure and I hope to explain why.

Captain Algebra from Olympia, Washington

First of all, who is Captain Algebra?  Captain Algebra is three young men from Olympia, Washington and they describe their genre as “Punk” on their Facebook and Reverbnation pages.

That’s a pretty safe and generic description, of course, and I’m sure plenty of people will read that and think, “Young guys who say they play punk.  Right.  Heard that before.”  That was pretty much what I thought the first time I saw a poster for them.

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Star Citizen: Changing the Way Video Games are Made and Played

The story of “Star Citizen” starts in 1986, when a young game developer and “Star Wars” fanatic returned to the United States from Great Britain and obtained a job at software company Origin Systems.  Eighteen-year-old Chris Roberts was already a veteran game developer, having released “Stryker’s Run” for BBC Micro while still living across the water.

The Origin Systems and Digital Anvil Years:

Origin_Systems_logoRoberts worked on two action-RPG games, “Times of Lore” and “Bad Blood”, released in 1988 and 1990.  By the time “Bad Blood” was released, Roberts was finishing up the game he wanted to make since he first watched “Star Wars”.  It was a space-based flight-sim called “Wing Commander” and would change the flight-simulation genre.

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A Look Back on MST3K: 25 Years of Laughter

It all began with a group of misfit comedians and low-budget television producers in Minnesota in the 1980s.  

Joel Hodgson and his friends.

Joel Hodgson, a nationally-recognized prop comic and magician who had the audacity to turn down NBC’s offer for a role in a sitcom not once, but twice, had all but abandoned his career in stand-up after Los Angeles and Hollywood left him with a bitter taste in his mouth.  He returned to Minnesota, where he taught classes in comedy and occasionally performed at clubs with some of his students and comedian friends, Josh Weinstein and Trace Beaulieu.

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