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Capillary Action - Fragments

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Artist: Capillary Action

Album: Fragments

Label: Pangaea

Review date: Oct. 7, 2005

Tiny Oberlin, Ohio seemingly churns out more talented musicians per year than the town has businesses. Those musicians include Matt Mehlan’s excellent Skeletons project, the rest of the Shinkoyo Records roster, an amazing number of modern classical players from the Oberlin Conservatory, and now Capillary Action.

Capillary Action is essentially a solo project by a young Oberlin University student, Jonathan Pfeffer, who makes instrumental guitar rock that ranges from sunny country pop (“Driving Through Twilight”) to noisy math rock (“Mid-Coital Seizure”) to Stereolab-like motorisms (“Constant Steady Collapse”). One byproduct of this stylistic range is that most listeners are going to be able to find something they don’t like, and for me that’s the occasional bluesy, pentatonic guitar interludes, which sound like they’re just taking up space until something more creative happens.

Beyond that, though, there’s a lot to like here, beginning with Kevin Alexander’s recording, which sounds great considering that the album was created in Oberlin classrooms. Also, it’s impressive that Pfeffer managed to make an instrumental guitar rock record with a lot of genre-changing and without a single style to call its own (there is no Capillary Action sound in the same way that there was a Don Caballero sound), all without ever entering jam band territory. Pfeffer’s songs are compact, and they’re full of unexpected changes rather than endless repetition.

The most exciting moments on Fragments are the ones in which Capillary Action goes furthest out on a limb. The mock tropicalia of “A Hundred Pages Of Cannot Be Named” is impressive, but much more impressive are the moments when Pfeffer wrestles with the music of the Load Records roster, Orthrelm and the aforementioned Don Caballero. Pfeffer clearly has the technical ability and constitution to make an instrumental record as daring and singularly strange as Orthrelm or Black Dice. Fragments isn’t quite there yet, but it’s very promising.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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