Underwater and on fire

Sea Level are never gonna do what you say
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  June 6, 2014


Dan Capaldi's solo project is Sea Level. Photo by Dylan Verner.  

Vocalist Kristina Kentigian has appeared on more local records than it’s worth tallying up at this point. Leave it to Dan Capaldi, himself a frequently hired gun, to make the best use of her yet on Nemo 2, the new record from his solo project, Sea Level.

“Tell Me Lies,” coming late in the record, is like Billie Holiday on a Deadmaus track. While Kentigian’s sultry and reserved, the backing track features a bass line that rings out with the menace of an old-time James Bond villain; Capaldi rides the high hat manically, and a dark beat juts in with five quick notes just when you’re getting settled. 

“All this time, I’m one step ahead of you,” Kentigian sings, “No need to play nice/ Knew where this was headed when I set my sights on you.”

Truly, even on “Cover It Up,” which he wrote and recorded with producer Noah Cole with a strict time limit of four hours, Capaldi always seems like he’s executing a plan he’s had in place for quite some time. Sure, this seven-song record is pretty disjointed — mixing up genre, instrumentation, and emotional resonance — but each individual piece feels mapped out and calculated, like a chemist manipulating test tubes lined up in a lab.

Just as “Tell Me Lies” echoes the Fleetwood Mac song of the same name, “Cover It Up” pulls in just a bit of the Cure with a repeating lyrical riff on “Never Enough,” but the delivery and production call to mind Beck’s more aggressive work and the percussion break alone makes the song a must-listen. Whatever else Capaldi is, he’s a spectacular drummer, inventive and crazy smart.

For vocals, he’s settled mostly into a falsetto style, drawn out and often distorted and mixed to the middle. On “Close Enough,” though, he stays lower down, clean and right on the mic so that you can hear every bit of spittle moving about. Add in a “waging the wage” lyrical reference and it’s not hard to hear Dominic Lavoie’s influence, the result being a psychedelic take on Paul McCartney: “Why can’t you understand the concept of close enough?”

Capaldi dives deeper into the local scene with “Fire Like This,” featuring a Fogcutters sample — slowed down and grimy, “I’m never gonna do what you say” — and a second verse rap from Eyenine. At times, it sounds a little like someone assaulting the Fogcutters in their practice space, “but the truth is,” Eyenine delivers in his nasally crispness, “you want it that way.”

Just as with his short works Anjuli and Waking Life, Capaldi’s Sea Level remains on Nemo 2 experimental and progressive, but somehow familiar and not all that far outside the mainstream.

NEMO 2 | released by Sea Level | with Derek Ramos and Kevin Oates + Micromasse | at Empire, in Portland | June 6 | sealevel.bandcamp.com

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