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We have our great storytellers in music, and we have our sonic adventurers. The qualities don’t always overlap, but when they do, sometimes it takes a few listens to really catch everything an artist is doing. That’s certainly the case with Capillary Action, the ever-morphing project of Jonathan Pfeffer.
“It’s a demanding project to listen to,” Pfeffer says. Seriously: In Capillary Action’s songs, you’ll hear heavily layered compositional arrangements, dissonant vocal inflections, Chinese opera gongs, and Samba whistles. Each song’s credits are lengthy enough to make you wonder if the group rehearses not in a basement but a music shop, where Agogo bells, nylon guitars, and hacksaws are always in close proximity.
As a lyricist and a songwriter, Pfeffer always strays from the obvious. Skyscraper Magazine describes Capillary Action as mixing together “the cacophony of punk and the compositional complexity of prog and jazz.” According to an anonymous fan letter included in the liner notes of the band’s new album Capsized, “it becomes obvious here that the dissonance is not part of a trick or part of a gimmick.” Capillary Action’s structured chaos instead serves to heighten the tension in Pfeffer’s words. “The songs spring from the lyrics,” he says. “Then the music is used to flush out the words.”
Capsized doesn’t just engage; it’s a bit of a sensory overload. There are meth heads and Mormons, and characters described as Phanatical characters. (It’s a reference to the Phillies’ Jim Henson-esque mascot; some of the band lives in Philadelphia).
“In a city without color, nothing is black and white,” warn Pfeffer’s noirish lyrics in “Phanatical,” a tropical and jazzy dirge for a city that’s not always sunny, a city that’s not always showing it’s brotherly love. “In 2007, there was this epidemic of violence, and it felt like there was a black cloud over the city,” Pfeffer recalls. “People were scared to leave their home.” Too many “Broad Street bullies,” strangling the city “by its own arteries,” as Pfeffer sings.
Capillary actions plays with Hume tonight at Red Door, 443 I St. NW. 8 p.m.