Capillary Action



    Let’s say you’re a seventeen-year-old music fanatic with a taste for the esoteric. You’ve fallen hard for grindcore. You own both Nuggets compilations and three copies of Trout Mask Replica. You dig jazz, like most of your Oberlin classmates, but you prefer Albert Ayler to Charlie Parker. Frank Zappa is your idol. You believe that the “song,” as a musical form, is more or less dead. You’ve got boundless enthusiasm and all the ideas in the world and it’s time to make your first record. What do you do?


    If you’re Jonathan Pfeffer, the teenage maestro behind the instrumental project Capillary Action, you do everything. That means musically (Pfeffer wrote, co-produced and performed everything here, aside from some keyboard and drum parts) and conceptually: Fragments subscribes to Mr. Bungle’s “No Style Left Behind” aesthetic, juxtaposing genres that have no business appearing on the same album. “Ticking Ghosts, Pt. 1” imagines the Shins sharing studio time with Oxes. “Constant Steady Collapse” moves from cheese-ball tropicalia into a guitar squall worthy of Slint. Elsewhere, you’ll hear bossa nova, garage rock and lounge jazz squished together with noise collages and some rad metal riffs.


    Pfeffer’s grab-bag approach, which breaks down genre distinctions by treating them equally, is a really nice theoretical construct. Unfortunately, he never quite gets past the planning stages. Part of the problem is that these pieces weren’t composed as you hear them on the record – true to its name, Fragments was written and recorded one section at a time, then stitched together during the editing process. As a result, the record sounds embryonic. Transitions are awkward where they exist at all, and there’s no momentum, no sense of narrative or purpose. Even the production job sounds half-finished, as if Fragments were recorded in random campus classrooms (it was).


    It’s not just that Fragments fails to cohere; given the amount of territory it covers, coherence would be impossible. It’s more that it’s aimless and poorly planned. Brief flirtations with classical structure (a bass line and triplet motif from “Ticking Ghosts, Pt. 2” references elements of “Pt. 1,” for example) suggest that Pfeffer’s got something up his sleeve, but more often he’ll simply present a string of unconnected ideas, or simply alternate between nearly identical sections. The cut-and-paste methodology has worked for bands such as Naked City and Fantomas because each of their segments is so ludicrously brief and controlled that it makes a kind of anarchic meta-sense. In contrast, much of Fragments is repetitive and meandering.


    This wouldn’t be so frustrating if there wasn’t so much good stuff going on amid the mess. The rumba break in the middle of “A Hundred Pages of Cannot Be Named” is totally charming, and “Architecture Would Fail” is a seven-minute retrospective of every awesome metal riff that’s ever been riffed. There’s some great guitar playing and drumming on the album, too. Pfeffer’s got a surplus of ideas, but he lacks a clear idea of how to make them all work. All the pieces are in place for a solid album, but on Fragments, they’re just pieces.


    Band website:

    Label website:

    “Mid-coital Seizure” mp3:

    “A Hundred Pages of Cannot Be Named” mp3:

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