I have a weird habit when it comes to albums I really enjoy. Well, multiple weird habits really, but one that I can't say I hear of other people doing is that I assume there's a mild concept involved. That's not to say I try to make every album I love into a rock opera, but it seems that I'm more drawn to an album that's at least mildly conceptual in nature. It doesn't always pan out, but sometimes an album I used to think was decently good will reveal some underlying unified concept and launch itself further up my favorites list. It happened with Rubberneck, it happened with Gentlemen, and now it's happened with The Captain Is Dead, Let the Drum Corpse Dance.
Of course, the album was perfectly pleasant at first, the logical extension of E6's Beach Boys worshiping side (despite having no ties to that collective) stripped of some twee overtones and replacing them with NMH's instrumental variety. Sounds like just the kind of album that could worn its way into your subconscious right? The songs were uniformly strong, from the gloriously pained "You Were On My Side" to the kinetic drum-heavy "The Happy Activist" and hitting all spots in between. The band seemed to be capable players and the arrangements and production worked well with the songs. It had all the makings of a decent indie-pop record.
Then I started to pay attention to some things. First it was the vocals, which start off as an under-layer to "Won't Be Fooled Again" and "The Happy Activist" then gradually move to the front of the mix by the time "The Children's Army" comes along. The it was the specifics of the arrangements, especially on the first few tracks where the vocals seem to have to fight to be heard. Most of the time it was drums that played the biggest part in obscuring the vocals, but not in a way that seemed like bad production. Then certain lyrics started to pull themselves out of the album...repeated references to 'the tyrant', allusions to some sort of congregation, betrayal coming up a few times. I never try to focus on the lyrics, I prefer to think of the vocals as another layer of instrumentation as opposed to a focal point for any given album, but once those few things popped out I started shifting my focus towards them. And then it fell into place.
It's fucking impressive really, a little band from Kansas uses their first widely distributed release to craft one of the most satisfying and un-obvious protest records of the 00s. No one seemed to catch on though, the people I got introduced to the album by were huge indie-pop fans who were taken with the sound of the record. If people disliked the album it was because the vocals were a little whiny (and that 's a fair criticism, but I can overlook it). But sitting there the whole time was a perfectly timed and a well constructed concept/protest record about the state of the world. Like I said, it's really fucking impressive that they pulled that off, even more impressive that as far as I know they didn't draw attention to it. Of course I could just be reading too much into it like I tend to do, but looking at the record that way makes me love it even more. Even if the concept part is a bunch of bullshit that I'm the only who sees (once again, perfectly possible) it's still a fantastic record. If you like stuff along the OTC-Circulatory System axis you'll probably enjoy it a hell of a lot.