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Kaptain - Retroscape
Review No: 249
Marc Soucy: Piano, Electric Piano, Organs,
Synthesizers, Mellotrons, Clavinet, Samplers, Virtual Drums and Percussion
For those of you out there in the world of rock music that are having severe withdrawal symptoms from no new Pink Floyd album, this could be the answer for you. (After all there has not been a new ‘Pink Floyd’ album since 1994). El Kaptain has put out an album of electric instrumentals that are right from the time when Progressive rock ruled the world in the early Seventies.
El Kaptain proudly wear their influences on their sleeves, and amongst those that are evident here are Pink Floyd, King Crimson, The Moody Blues, Cream, Traffic, Santana, and even a touch of Jethro Tull. This is no bad thing as everybody has their influences, and the further you burrow under the skin of a band the more you are likely to find. But so saying if you are going to nail your inspirations to the mast then make sure your flag flies, which El Kaptain does high and proud.
El Kaptain are Kirk Bartholomew, who plays most of the
instruments with strings, and Marc Soucy, who plays most of the keyboards
and things you need to hit. The name is obviously a bit of a joke on the
Star Trek series through the guitarist’s first name, but also to
El Kaptain, a famously hard to climb cliff site in Yosemite National Park.
Naming the band after something hard to get on top of seemed a very appropriate
starting point for the band.
Retroscape is El Kaptain’s third disc, the previous two being their debut Haywire and Danse Dun Backwurdz, both of which were fine rock albums but were far more on the heavy progressive side of rock music, whereas I feel with Retroscape the duo have found their own particular niche in the market. Both Bartholomew and Soucy have paid their dues over the years in many bands, and in many different styles, but now El Kaptain allows them to play from the heart and the music that pours out from their souls, dares to go where no musician have gone before.
With an amazing stroke of genius the album starts out with a cover version of Pink Floyd’s Breathe, the opening track from Dark Side Of The Moon (1973). (Bit of poetic license here as actually Speak to Me is the first track credited on DSOTM, but is hardly an actual song). El Kaptain have brought Breathe right up to date with a very strong version, which I am sure will get a nod of approval from all Floydians, but it is not until about halfway through the song that you realize what is so dramatically different about this version, and that is that there are no vocals. Kirk Bartholomew’s lead guitar masterfully replacing them, allowing your mind to drift away and put your own interpretation onto the music, which is surely something that the original Floyd wanted their audience to do in the first place.
The remaining ten songs are all El Kaptain originals, and although they all have the Kaptain’s vibe running through them, they also have their own identities, covering the complete spectrum of rock. With only two members of the band, obviously a lot of things have to be overdubbed, but unless you know this you would naturally assume that this was actually a large group of talented musicians showing off their wares. On record, El Kaptain sounds like a full band so well do they mesh all their different parts together. In fact you would think they had the progressive rock equivalent of Charlie Watts on drums such is the laid back, but very holding it all together drum style of Marc Soucy. Kirk Bartholomew’s early forays into the world of rock music were on the bass guitar, perhaps still his first love, and the rhythm section formed by these two must be one of the finest in their chosen field.
By the time Breathe closes you have forgotten all about the album’s lack of vocals, and are whisked away by El Kaptain on a timeless journey. Concorde Shores has the feel of a Led Zeppelin jam on a very good day, and has that same sort of rock credibility.
Changing directions we are then treated to Camerada - a Latin-flavoured jazz-rock affair, with Bartholomew leaving his Gilmour influences in their case and giving a nod to Carlos Santana. But then the whole track is turned on its head with a strutting blues piano solo in the middle section which would surely get the most stubborn foot tapping.
Mysteria is a lovely little mood piece, perfect to give you space to regain your thoughts before being whisked away on the next part of the musical sojourn, Bartholomew’s spacey guitar here is orbiting around one of Saturn’s many moons. The amusingly titled Bowie In Traffic takes us back to those more innocent times of the Sixties, as well as pulling the throttle way back; in fact the track reappears at the end of the album in an acoustic version which goes to prove that a good tune is a good tune however it is played.
By this place in the album the listener should be well relaxed into the El Kaptain groove so beautifully has the album been paced. So taking its rightful place in the centre of the album is the title track, clocking in at four and a half minutes. It is by far the heaviest piece here, up to this point the two musicians have been happy to allow their natural feel for the music flow through their instruments (Kirk Bartholomew showing admirable restraint up to now).
But now it is back to the old adage. ‘’If you have got it, flaunt it,” and why not I say? After a powerful drum break, Marc Soucy puts in a rousing keyboard break before Kirk Bartholomew shreds the strings off his guitar with a lead break that will peel the paint off your walls, bringing the song to a rousing conclusion.
Just to prove that El Kaptain have not lost control of their ship, this is followed by probably the standout track on the whole album: Trail Of Tears, where instead of just blowing away, the boys make every note count in a very cleverly constructed song that has every nuance of emotion wrung from it.
The album closes out with three further instrumentals, all of equal quality, before returning to the familiar theme of Bowie In Traffic, an ending which leaves you feeling contented, but also the knowledge that you have just tried something a little different.
El Kaptain have emphasized the grander yet less intrusive side of music, feeling what this day and age needs is relief from the stresses of today’s hustle and bustle, to slip back into a far more relaxed time. As there are no lyrics the listener can enjoy the music, letting their own thoughts run riot in their own imaginations. A rock music alternative for a new age, great music to cruise to whilst in the car. A soundtrack for the life of the rocker in all of us. For more information on this marvellous band please look up their website at www.elkaptain.nu
“It’s music Jim, but not as we know it’’