Capes – Tancred

The recent notches on the musical timeline have provided quite the fill of lush and sweeping chamber pop produced by bands with ever-expanding rosters. It’s posh to cram the stage with 7-12 people who have a vague sense of baroque stylings. And that’s great. But that’s also precisely why we need more quality albums like Capes. The solo debut of Now, Now guitarist and secondary vocalist Jess Abbott, Capes is the antitheses of the modern quest for grandiosity.

The tone for Capes is set in the opening seconds of the album, as a humming organ sustain blends with brittle, barely strummed chords on “Old-fashioned.” The sound is vulnerable and fragile; weak but welcoming. Abbott’s vocals work on the same level: breathy, personal, unforced, and, in a way, cozy. Her voice is best understood through her own lyrics on “Black Cat”; “My only request, vocalized with my tiny lungs in my tiny chest… You ignored.” There’s no strength in the delivery from those tiny lungs, but there’s undeniable strength Abbott’s quiet sincerity.

The production on Capes is somewhat deceiving, but in a positive way. On first listen, the production seems so stripped back that it’s none existent. But further listenings reveal that there are, in fact, many layers of sound here. They just happen to be strategically brought starkly in and out of the mix at certain times so that there’s never too much going on. It feels basal, despite the layers. Because the album isn’t overproduced, each track sounds homespun; like Abbot is just playing the songs for a few friends seated around a fireplace during a bitterly cold Minnesota winter night.

The structure of the album adds to the sense of personable smallness. Only the final number (“Harvest and Holly”) cracks the 2:10 mark, with the total run-time for all 10 tunes coming in at under 20 minutes. The tracks are more like brief explorations of an idea than “songs” in the traditional pop sense. Musical flow is the most destinctive element of Capes. There are no choruses or refrains to be found on this record, instead the emphasis is on the continued forward movement. While part of this can be attributed to the shoegaze elements Abbott and her cronies employ in Now, Now, that doesn’t totally account for the sensation listening to Capes evokes. On instrumental track like “West” and “North” (which serve as bridges between songs) the simplicity of flow boarders on something vaguely Taoist. Because of this, the album stays engaging minus any real hooks.

Capes is not the type of album that leaves you in awe, nor should it be. It’s a comfort blanket – familiar, soft, uncomplicated, and just waiting for you to curl up in its warmth.

Review Score: 7.2

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