With a name that both recalls the Beatles and Frank Sinatra, the Capitol Years have set some lofty goals for themselves, and boy do they ever deliver, even setting the bar higher for their Philadelphia peers in one new song. What was once a solo project for singer / songwriter Shai Halperin has now become a full-fledged group and Dance Away the Terror marks the band’s fourth proper full-length album, and their best effort to date. We once again find Halperin and company entrenched in the sounds of the ’60s, but this time exploring its sweeter sides, a la the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds and the Kinks, as opposed to a bluesy lo-fi Velvet Underground direction.
The opening title track, with quiet piano and spare guitar lines, reminds us of another time, an era forty years back when similar sounding bands were helping the youth of America cope with another war, eerily similar to the one in which our era is enmeshed. This gives way to the aptly titled “Revolutions,” which brings the Beatles’ likeness front and center with no obfuscation. “Long Time” is one of the more upbeat `rock’ songs on the album, recalling the Kinks in the verses and the Byrds in the choruses. One of the best songs on the album is “Mirage People,” a song inspired by an online `dis’ letter which started, as the song does, “The Capitol Years are not a good band.” The letter’s purpose was to disparage the Philadelphia rock scene, saying that it had “reached a particular low,” but the Years turn that tirade into a rallying cry for their peers. While they use the words of this anonymously written tirade (the guy used the name `Nom D. Plume,’ and he’s challenging the creativity of these bands? Please.) they decidedly turn the vitriol into inspirational rallying cry with the words “Unchain yourselves, gang” and “let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard than this” while even retaining the writer’s reference to the Burning Brides! How a city that has the Lilys, Dr. Dog, Man Man and Mazarin can be considered at a `low,’ I’ll never understand, and the Capitol Years redeem themselves and the city in a last laugh that also doubles as a particularly great song.
The Beatles references find another home in “It’s Only Loveless,” a song that finds itself echoing notes from “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” while also sharing similarities to the early works of R.E.M. and XTC, though not, oddly enough, My Bloody Valentine. “Seven Songs” is another highlight, appearing just after a reprise of the title track, named after the second line in the song, “As the Terror Dances Your Way.” “Seven Songs” features some of Halperin’s finest vocals, light and tender, in its own way reminiscent of “Yesterday.” When Paul McCartney penned his famous `solo’ track, it showed a side of the artist not theretofore seen, delving into the depths of his soul while channeling the popular folk music of the time. “Seven Songs” does the same thing for Halperin, and should be considered one of his finest achievements. While that song is his McCartney side, “Oh Lord” shows his Harrison side, jangly and introspective, and another home run of a song. Two untitled hidden tracks close out the album, the first being the most interesting, with the parenthetical title “Iraq is Dead.” Halperin changes the title lyric to “Rock is Dead” gradually in the chorus, going on to make ironic statements about tidal waves and how `Jesus saves.’ Although relatively simple sounding, the few lyrics in the song are inspired, accompanied by a catchy tune.
There’s always some yahoo out there who feels the need to call out his own city’s music scene, despite numerous examples to the contrary. Nom D. Plume said that the Capitol Years are not a good band. He’s right. They’re a great band! For Shai Halperin to be able to turn this tirade around, making a double ion shift, a negative to a positive, while wrapping it into a compelling song amongst twelve equally worthy tracks is a feat to admire. This album is all about turning negatives into positives. While the current administration rules over this country with the iron fist of fear, the Capitol Years remind us to `dance it away,’ and with “Mirage People,” they prove they practice what they preach. We should all be so defiant in the face of dread.
XTC- English Settlement
The Beatles- Revolver
Guided by Voices- Isolation Drills