Captain Baby

Captain Baby MJC Alpha

How the Best NYC Album of 2015 Was Overlooked (and What You Can Do About It)
By Zach Weg (Deli Magazine, NYC)

Take one: The room was empty. Well, aside from one or two women up front, and a man at the back.

Okay. Take two: The room was almost empty. Brooklyn’s rock quartet Captain Baby play mostly to the dim light of Arlene’s Grocery one midOctober afternoon, smack in the middle of CMJ 2015. Just a year earlier, the music and street-art collective released Sugar Ox, perhaps the most vital album in recent memory. But whose memory? For despite its twelve wit-filled kinetic tracks, the album all but vanished into the silence the second it dropped. Such silence, however, should not be taken as a measure of the band’s failure; just that they care too damn much about the world.

Asher Rogers, the Nashville-rooted musician who started Captain Baby four years ago, following a revelatory stay in the South Korean border town of Paju, has trouble even promoting his band’s shows. “I can’t sit down at a computer,” he says, “and type the words, ‘Hey Guys.’ It makes me cringe.”

A visit to the Captain’s Facebook page, in fact, is more likely to deliver a chart of recent crime rates in New York City than an announcement of upcoming gigs. What’s more, while seemingly every other band on the planet is eager to share their newest single or video the second it drops, Captain Baby prefers to raise awareness about things like the ongoing human rights abuses in North Korea. “There are concentration camps in 2015,” Rogers cries, the beer in front of him barely sipped. “There’s a rape per night in New York City,” he goes on, “and I’m supposed to put on a rock and roll show!?”

Captain Baby hasn’t, in fact, performed many concerts since moving to New York in 2012, and most of the ones they have don’t exactly attract big crowds. Case in point: a recent show at the Rock Shop in Park Slope drew zero people. “No girlfriends paid to get in or anything,” recalls Steve King, the venue’s booking agent. The group, it turns out, isn’t even known in the New York underground. Or the vaunted underground-ofthe-underground, for that matter.

“I’ve only really known two bands since I’ve been in New York,” Rogers says of his no networking, no self-promotion approach, “and one of them is my cousin’s band, so that doesn’t even count.” For David Jensen, head of Sunset Alliance—the Arizona-based record label that signed Captain Baby after Rogers cold e-mailed them with the group’s early song “Spider King”—such a dearth of live dates isn’t shameful.

“A band should never feel pressure to play shows,” Jensen tells me by phone. They should only be interested, he thinks, in performing their music and getting it heard. Rogers himself offers that “the dream, of course, would be to tour with Radiohead.” Yet, from the anonymous way it leaves unsigned murals of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un in the subways, to its beguilingly self-produced music videos, Captain Baby don’t, in fact, care to carry on with recent record biz tradition.

Sugar Ox, which is also the band’s debut album, has its origins in such irregularities. Recorded on GarageBand in about a week, the technically impressive performances weren’t so much created by Rogers and his bandmates as captured by them. Instead of trying to deliberately write songs, they tried, as Rogers explains, “tapping into the stream” of creativity that is “always there.” Sugar Ox, consequently, throttles with mystery.

One may not know exactly what is going on within each track, but the vibrancy and literariness is compelling nevertheless. Mingling a jumpy madness, ala Drums and Wires by XTC (Rogers’ favorite band), with a grainy starkness, like that which pervaded TV On the Radio’s Young Liars album, Sugar Ox boasts a singular dread-pop: mining the everyday ennui whilst encompassing global realities such as urban alienation and political propaganda. Tall order.

Take a track like “Bury Your Head,” for instance, which opens with the line: “Are you ordinary people/dying off because a fever?” It could be interpreted as a lamentation for the starved masses of North Korea, or perhaps for the spiritually-hungry workers riding NYC’s subways each day. (Your call.) “Proper Gentlemen,” which is Captain Baby at their most clearly new wave, could be taken as a scowl towards dictator Kim JungUn—as when Rogers warbles, “Proper gentlemen acting like an infant”—or as a sympathetic critique of our less-responsible selves.

In fact, all of Sugar Ox—from guitar-kicked pleas like “Where did you get your money from/Why am I made of bubblegum,” to the succinct fear of separation on late track “Row On”—wails for a world burned by violence, hatred, and sadness. It’s an album aimed at power-tripping rulers making pretty speeches; at one-eyed Great Danes hobbling three-legged on cold cobblestone; and for scared kids receiving warm water from a fine-looking fountain on another tense day. Frighteningly, yet all too necessarily, it tackles all that is tragic in the world, while pointing towards all that could be beautiful too. Such deep concern for humanity lies at the core
of Captain Baby, which has also plagued their wider success, thus far.

But Rogers doesn’t see it this way. “What’s the worst thing that could happen?,” he counters artlessly. “People don’t know about our band? I don’t think that’s the worst thing in this world.”

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