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Coming to Terms With Coming Apart: Captain Black Heart


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After being introduced by a mutual friend, songwriters Dino Malito and Erwin Herceg first collaborated in Serum, a melodic hard-rock band that was signed to Santa Monica’s Brick Red Records. About a year after the band ceased working together, Dino and Erwin reconnected and ran through some musical ideas. The chemistry was immediate and inspirational. Malito’s music was a perfect vehicle for Herceg’s singing and lyrics, and, more generally, their attitudes and outlooks on life proved compatible. As Erwin recalls, “I went to Dino’s just to hang out one Friday night and didn’t come home until Sunday.” Soon the duo, calling themselves Captain Black Heart, got down to business with “Needle,” an arresting tale of euphoric but self-destructive love. A self-titled EP followed that featured Herceg’s plaintive voice delivering his introspective lyrics over Malito’s multilayered, dreamlike compositions.

On “Needle,” a reedy tenor in the neighborhood of Jon Anderson or John Wetton joins the opening marriage of acoustic guitar and sustained, subdued organ chords, guiding the listener through a pastiche of sounds both new and reminiscent of the progressive rock of the early 1970s. Following the first chorus, processed voices drift into the mix and blend with the mellifluous analog-synth foundation, creating a moody, schizophrenic tug-of-war redolent of Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd. I hate to beat the Floyd comparison to death, but Malito’s pitch-bending solo that follows the second chorus achieves a tonal quality and emotional resonance similar to the work of David Gilmour; Herceg even bears a passing physical resemblance to the guitar god. This is not to take away from the originality of Captain Black Heart, who have obviously found a formula whereby they have forged their own distinct identity while retaining some of the style and ideas of the pioneers of experimental rock. On the contrary, their willingness to embrace their influences without becoming lost in or bogged down by them exhibits a mature, confident approach to their craft.


Other tracks on Captain Black Heart include the calming major-seventh-and-falsetto–drenched “Once for a Change”; the uplifting, melodic “Flying Skeletons”; and “Bomb Shelter,” a slow rocker that features contributions on bass from Juan Aldrete of indie favorites The Mars Volta. “Bomb Shelter” is a showcase for all of Captain Black Heart’s strengths: pensive, philosophical lyrics; beautiful, lilting vocal and instrumental melodies; use of found sounds; thick but clean production; and a nagging feeling of unease that lasts after the last note dies out. Indeed, as the final wavering siren sound is left to dissolve into the ether, nearly a full minute of this track is given over to an unadorned field recording of a rainstorm, as if to remind the listener that it’s a harsh world out there after all. Captain Black Heart stands as a cohesive and eloquent artistic statement, a mirror of a fragmented world; it is a guidebook for making sense of the senseless calamities and impulses that befall and betray us.

Breaking It Down: “Seven Years”

“Seven Years” is a moody rumination on the pressures and predations of modern life. The track opens with gossamer layers of acoustic guitar, echo-drenched tremolo, and quiet drums tapping out a syncopated rhythm. Erwin Herceg’s brooding vocal soon joins the mix, talking about irrevocable changes and asking “Are you all right?” His airy voice gathers force, offering a series of admonitions against being held captive or submitting to manipulation. The tone of resistance changes quickly to one of resignation:

I’m going away to see if there are brighter days
Where I might feel more like myself
And feel like holding on / holding on / holding on to something
And kidding yourself


There is hope for healing and regeneration, but even that is dependent upon a measure of self-delusion. We yearn for connection with the world; but by clutching at people and things, which are ephemeral, we are destined to suffer when they are inevitably lost.

From here, the song builds to what turns out to be its most dynamic moment, as Herceg’s voice reaches new levels of stridency and conviction, rising out of the swirling soundscape that Dino Malito has created to declare “I will be there / I will follow / and I’ll wait / wait all the way.” Again, however, despair hovers like an ill cloud, and hope and conviction might not be enough: “And if I fail / this will be the last time you’ll hear from me.” As the voice recedes, the line is crowned by a stepped-up attack on the drums and the addition of a crunchy-toned electric guitar picking out eighth-note upbeats, pulsating with hypnotic effect.

The music of the bridge is affirming, but the lyrical tone is on the ambivalent side of hopeful:

Somewhere in this galaxy
There’s a place where we all think the same
Hey you with your own ideas
Where you think you’re going with them?
Are you sure?
Or are you just bringing them to show me?


It is not clear whether this section is a plea for unity or a criticism of the tyranny of groupthink. Is it a dream of enlightened coexistence, or the recognition that the lone voice is often drowned out by the din of the crowd or corrupted through the insistent, craven appetite of the ego?

The next verse has us on the run, devoured with a smile by the cruelly beautiful “tourist town,” and finally in love, but not without the requisite anxious butterflies. Before the bridge returns, we are treated to a final analysis of the war raging with the fragile self:


Listen to me talk in circles / always loving myself
Always hating myself / always selling myself out


The vocals eventually drift away, leaving the listener to contemplate the messages while the music blends with phantom tape sounds. In the end, we become the weary hitchhiker—solitary, eyes on the passing landscape, mind on our passing fancies, mouth full of dust—bouncing queasily down the back roads.





by Ron Bally | Skope Magazine

Despite what the public may perceive as trivial tabloid fodder, Captain Black Heart is not the name of Johnny Depp’s beguiling character from the Pirates Of The Caribbean moviefranchise or his slightly eccentric private persona. It is, in fact, the name and title of a highly emotive self-titled debut EP by an arresting musical duo that combines passionately personal lyrics and lush arrangements to poignant and brooding effect. Imagine Oasis on valium or the fragile pop of Hall And Oates reincarnated for the digital age.

Sharing obvious influences ranging from Nick Drake and Pink Floyd to Elliot Smith and Flaming Lips, Erwin Herceg (voice) and Dino Malito (instruments) process emotions of heartbreak and wistful longing like reincarnated soul-brothers searching for love and happiness. Herceg’s contemplative storytelling and often melancholic vocals absorb Malito’s ethereal sound collages like a dry sponge stranded in rain forest monsoon, soaking up every drop with thirst-quenching results.

With textured David Gilmour-esque guitar leads on “Needle”, Malito displays subdued fireworks by igniting dreamy and ambient psychedelic rock sparklers bursting with vitality as Herceg liberates feelings of heartache and rumination by letting lyrics rise to a surface with willful and vivid perception: “The way that you love me/It’s like a needle in my vein/The way you look inside it/I’d do it again.” The ‘70’s-era Bee Gees-styled strings and vocals of “Flying Skeletons” simulates Captain Black Heart at a disco on Mars instead of Brooklyn, but overall, the cosmically organic tunes created share a uniquely versatile perspective of inventiveness and immediacy.




by Troy Michael | Captain Black Heart : album review

 



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