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Punk rock is for young people. It’s music that invites physical movement, from personal convulsions to group slamming. But punk, like rave music, loses much of its appeal and functionality if you can’t jump around to it, whether because of a bad back or age-related self-consciousness. So how does a punk rocker age? How does a raver sit out the last dance? Tim Kinsella, the 23-year-old former singer and lyricist for caP’n Jazz and current warbler for Joan of Arc, is struggling with the question of growing up without growing old.
Analphabetapolothology is a two-CD collection of everything ever recorded by caP’n Jazz, a popular Chicago post-hardcore/emocore band that broke up in 1995. caP’n Jazz’s legend in the indie and punk communities increased as the band’s scattered 7-inches and lone album became increasingly scarce after the Promise Ring, one of its splinter groups, became increasingly popular by playing a tighter version of caP’n Jazz’s dynamic punk pop. Meanwhile, caP’n Jazz’s other three members, including Kinsella, turned completely away from the former group, forming the jazzy art-rock outfit Joan of Arc.
“We were young and idealistic, inspired to jump around and rock out,” Kinsella told Alternative Press when asked about caP’n Jazz. “I’m probably more cynical now. I don’t know, but I can’t just be excited to think, ‘Oh, this song will rock hard.’ That just isn’t interesting to me anymore.”
But the Promise Ring’s willingness to jump around and rock out is the reason the band is huge among skater kids and fans of all the subgenres that implies. The Promise Ring is also gaining the attention of older devotees of punk; Nothing Feels Good, the band’s second album, feels like a blast from the past, back when Rites of Spring, Gray Matter, Dag Nasty, and Embrace were first defining what eventually came to be known as emocore. So while 22-year-old former caP’n Jazz guitarist (and now Promise Ring leader) Davey von Bohlen is content to refine the sound he helped develop in his late teens, Kinsella would prefer his musical past to stay there.
The liner notes for Analphabetapolothology are signed “Ex-caP’n Jazz,” but the writer is clearly Kinsella:
“Reissues by nature have to be a bit embarrassing. They undermine our pretenses by making what was once special and precious in its rarity, now somehow a little less in its convenient availability….You hold a self-gratifying and indulgent object….It happened. It’s over and now it’s easily available to anyone who might be interested. I don’t want to have to worry about it anymore.” Translation: We’ve moved on to new bands, both of which have released new records considerably better than the one you’re about to hear.
The qualifiers and disclaimers continue for several more sentences, and even the strange, mashed-together CD title probably doesn’t contain the word “anal” by accident; it’s likely a response to the collector kids who have been selling caP’n Jazz records over the Internet.
Kinsella also writes, “Everything somehow seemed bigger and more connected then.” That’s because it was. Not simply in terms of the early ’90s having a good underground network before punk broke big, but because it was the age in which Kinsella experienced caP’n Jazz. The “then” Kinsella refers to happened while he was in his late teens and early 20s, when kids are thrust out of the womb of high school into the new environment of college. It’s a time when almost-adults are living off their parents away from home, clustered six-strong in group houses, putting on shows, doing fanzines, and trying to re-create the wide base of friends and acquaintances they always had when growing up. Kinsella has now reached the age where college friends have moved away, old group houses have broken up in favor of efficiencies and couplings, and the need to be surrounded by more than a handful of people has subsided. It’s also the time when most of one’s early idealism is blown away by reality. But that’s not to say Kinsella doesn’t want to connect with peoplehe just doesn’t necessarily want to sleep on their couches.
The first song on Joan of Arc’s debut CD, A Portable Model of, features Kinsella singing “Too smart to be a pop star/Not smart enough not to be,” perhaps expressing doubts about starting a new, more experimental band, knowing everything he does will be compared to caP’n Jazz or the Promise Ring. Kinsella’s new band creates a strange mix of Palacelike cracked voices and acoustic guitars, Slintlike pregnant pauses, and wiggy prog-rock phrases that float through the sky at their best and circulate in an air of artifice at their most suspect. Joan of Arc’s CD is even a concept record, though about what I’m not sure; Kinsella’s lyrics are often as elliptical as his record titles, and he has been wary about divulging A Portable Model of’s theme.
Though his fans may be obsessed with Kinsella’s musical past, it would be presumptuous to say he feels the same way. But he does analyze the musical and social processes that led to his current band and state of mind. That deep self-analysis may in fact be the concept behind not only A Portable Model of but Joan of Arc itself. Kinsella and crew just finished recording their second record, to be released sometime in May, and it’s revealingly called How Memory Works. That title is printed rather unassumingly on the inside front page of A Portable Model of’s booklet, and there are rumors that the other phrases scattered throughout the CD design will also be future album titles. Kinsella now wants each record to relate to the last one. And maybe with time he will realize that it wouldn’t be a mistake for him to accept caP’n Jazz’s oeuvre as part of his canon.
Analphabetapolothology begins with caP’n Jazz’s lone full-length, Burritos, inspiration point, fork balloon sports, cards in the spokes, automatic biographies, kites, kung fu, trophies, banana peels we’ve slipped on and egg shells we’ve tippy toed over. And yes, that is the title. Kinsella’s penchant for semi-nonsensical word play is everywhere in caP’n Jazz’s lyrics. He often uses puns for their sonic swirl as much as for their meanings, as on “Flashpoint: Catheter”: “I know you know traps ease/I know no trapeze.” (It’s a technique von Bohlen often uses in the Promise Ring, as in “Delaware are you aware of the Air Supply and Television?” from Nothing Feels Good.)
But musically, caP’n Jazz had much in common with Rites of Spring, a band often cited as epochal for punk rockers. Both bands played music that was hard but melodic, with song structures that, while loosely poppy, were loaded with remarkably nimble arrangements for a punk band. And while the music of both groups is clearly visionary punk, the main focus is on their singers, who bared their souls with semipoetic lyrics delivered in voices that sound as desperate as the emotions they expressed. It’s clear Kinsella learned to sing from emulating Rites of Spring’s (and now Fugazi’s) Guy Picciotto.
The second CD is a compilation of the band’s numerousand remarkably consistent7-inch releases and compilation contributions, rounded out by a few unreleased tracks. But the most telling tracks are the ones that follow the Burritos, inspiration point… album on Disc 1. The linear, droney, spoken-word tune “Tokyo” is among the last tracks recorded by caP’n Jazz (it was previously unissued), and it hints at the sound of Kinsella’s future band. But the introduction to Disc 1’s last track is the most candid pointer to Kinsella’s transition from punk singer to creative musician. “Olerud” is a live recording from caP’n Jazz’s last show, and von Bohlen prefaces it with the announcement, “This is a sucky song we wrote for our sucky singer.” Kinsella’s response is part jokey, part annoyed: “You know, it’s like…a marriage when you’re in a band….Trying to get five people to agree on everything…you know. You can’t introduce a song like that. We’re growing in different directions, you know. That happens about this age for boys, and, you know, I don’t…it’s fine. Great intro…”
Great outro, too.CP