Album Reviews

The Capstan Shafts – Environ Maiden

(Rainbow Quartz) UK release date: 29 October 2007

There are a few times in your life when you feel left out of the joke. When you’re six and you reply “no” when a bunch of older kids ask if you’re a virgin is such an example. When they proceed to howl with laughter and you don’t understand why, you’ve just been taught a valuable life lesson. If you don’t get it, don’t say you do; you’ll end up looking like an idiot. That kind bewilderment is not unlike the Capstan Shafts listening experience. Is this a joke I just don�t get?

Weighing in at a staggering 29 tracks the terribly titled Environ Maiden (it is a terrible title, there’s no point in arguing) is a statement of purpose on behalf of one Dean Wells. This is his seventeenth album in the space of five years which rather suggests that he records any idea that pops into his head and then releases it. Many of these songs are little more than fleeting ideas; most last less than a minute, and there’s only one song here that makes it past the two minute mark.

Lo-Fi would be one way to describe what is going on here. That’s probably the most polite way of putting it, so for now we’ll stick with that. The production is, at best non-existent but then all of his albums are recorded at home so we’d expect nothing less (or more). At times, you find yourself checking your speakers just to check that they aren’t dying. I appreciate that lo-fi has its own aesthetic, but I’m sure that making your guitar sound like your playing it with a fist full of barbed wire isn’t one of the key points.

When you go back and check out Baby Bird‘s lo-fi output, it all sounded pretty well recorded. There are times when listening to Environ Maiden you get up to check for fluff on the stylus and then you remember that it’s on CD. Even John Frusciante‘s heaviest heroin fuelled recordings which consisted of little more than him screaming for forty minutes sounded like Dark Side of The Moon compared to Capstan Shafts.

Responsible for guitars, bass, drums and vocals, Wells certainly sounds as if he’s some kind of savant. However he seems equally gifted on each of these instruments: which is to say it sounds like he’s only just started to learn how to play any of them. However, in certain quarters Wells is hailed as a song writing genius. He gets favourable comparisons to the likes of Guided By Voices (admittedly his recording techniques are similar to those of GBV’s Robert Pollard) and roundly applauded for the lo-fi approach he takes. Yet I still don’t get it. To these ears this sounds like a bloke who can’t sing or play making a record just to see if he can. He can, but it is unmitigated bobbins.

That he’s built up a considerable following seems unlikely and yet is completely true. We’re willing to accept that at times there are some nice touches here and there (a nod to the Velvet Underground during One of Us Should Be Further Away being one such point) but a complete lack of quality control means that any idea that pops into Wells’ head finds its way onto the record. We might even say that at his best Wells reminds us a little bit of Graham Coxon’s early solo efforts, but there is such a lack of talent on display here that such a statement would be generous to say the least.

Of course this is all one man’s opinion, and I was caught out on that virgin thing when I was six so it is possible that The Capstan Shafts is just a joke I don’t get (I’m very cautious thesedays). You are very much on your own on this one, I just don’t understand it I’m afraid.

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The Capstan Shafts – Environ Maiden