UP FROM HIS SEAT Dan Capaldi.
In addition to plenty of other projects, Dan Capaldi has played drums now for two of Portland's most important bands of the last five years: the brightly burning Cambiata and the still-on-the-rise Holy Boys Danger Club. Now he's gone all Phil Collins and put that Berklee education to good use by creating Sea Level, a smart-rock affair for which Capaldi handles guitar and lead vocals.
Actually, for the band's debut EP Anjuli (a Far Pavilions reference?), he plays just about everything, though he's put together a live act that will feature East Wave Radio's Johnny Venom on bass, Dreamosaic's Justin Wiley on keys, and Radiation Year's Chris Sweet on drums. At least on the five songs he's recorded, both the Cambiata's theatrical inclinations and Holy Boys' pointed and soaring rock are in evidence. Capaldi's also a film composer and that kind of storytelling instinct comes through too, with songs that tend to go from point A to B and wouldn't sound out of place on Broadway.
"Useless to Fight" introduces Capaldi's vocals as somewhere between Freddie Mercury and Travis's Fran Healy, clean and languid with more than a bit of a come-on. He's "lacking the patience to rewind/Cuz I lost my mind/Only you told me so." Strings enter in what would be the chorus were it repeated, both soaring through the melody and chunking the rhythm. Then it cuts away to a dark bit with brooding bass and atmospheric synths that give way to a guitar solo that's a bit Anastasio.
It's a big song to cram into 2:45, but that's why it succeeds. Similarly, "Rise and Fall" is a swaggering bit of pop rock that manages to be upbeat and melancholy at the same time ("If my intentions were clear/Then I'd paint you a picture of all that I hold dear"), and fits in a shimmering cymbal stop for angelic voices and delicate piano, before firing into a Brit-rock coda to close out a 2:54 song.
These are in contrast to "Follow the Light," a 5:34 and languid piece of sultry jazz flavor, with a bleating low-end sax and mutedly distorted guitar lead. Do you have kids and watch the Backyardigans? This is that kind of thing, and that's not a bad thing — the music on that show rocks, written by Evan Lurie of the Lounge Lizards, a jazz group that's featured John Medeski, Marc Ribot, and scads of other great players over the years.
There's a particularly nice bit near the finish where soaring strings are paired with crunchy electric guitar.
By the time the disc finishes with "Over," Capaldi has shown he's got his own voice and vision, and his confidence ripples through his delivery. When the horns blast in, Rustic Overtones-style (sorry, I mean Love Underground-style), there's a charge of energy that ought to make you disagree with Capaldi's declaration: "thank God it's over."
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ANJULI | Released by Sea Level | with Billy Libby + Amanda Gervasi + the Vanityites | at the Empire, in Portland | Jan 29 | facebook.com/sealevelmusic