Album Review: Mock Orange – Captain Love

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Indiana’s own Mock Orange has had a relatively successful career. With seven albums under its wing, the friendly and warm quartet still find a home at an indie label, and while they’re not selling out shows every night or opening for R.E.M., its sound has managed to travel as far and diverse as Japan. That’s pretty ambitious for a small alt. rock band out of the Midwest. In fact, that’s just the type of success most songwriters dream of, really.

It’s taken four years and some intricate carving, but Mock Orange has officially followed up 2004’s critically lauded album, Mind is Not Brain. This is more rational than some might be led to believe. Most acts with that degree of critical success would probably manage to screw it up, following up with a less than standard record, diminishing every aspect that most considered “great” and “extraordinary” beforehand. Nevertheless, that’s not the case here, as Captain Love, the group’s seventh entry, is fascinating, poppy, and above all, adventurous.

“I’m gonna be a man tomorrow,” vocalist Ryan Grisham declares on the opening title track. It’s a quick confirmation that the band’s still maturing, and furthermore, ready for a challenge. Despite the poppy sensationalism that’s rooted in its instrumentation, the song is a bit vengeful and depressing, with lyrics like: “I still have this strong desire/to break you open/expose the secret/and justify my right” and “There’s no one calling tonight.” Lyrics aside, the opening track is a jubilant affair that sets the mood for the remainder of the eleven tracks.

If there’s a signature tone to this band, then “Song In D” certainly hones in on it. Between the jangly guitar work and the angsty harp of Grisham, it feels like a Mock Orange tune and nothing else. That’s a really great thing to have, especially in a world as clouded and overdone as “indie rock.” Quickly following is the shimmy and shake of “Smile On”, a similar tune to its previous, only there’s some flavor borrowed from The New Pornographers, especially when Grisham repeats, “Why am I so vertical?” almost channeling a Dan Bejar. However, behind the singing and poppy indie madness, drummer Heath Metzger shines, providing morose and clunky beats that fit here and only here. It’s a punchy track altogether and alongside “Song In D” really takes this album to new heights.

“World of Machines” is catchy, fun, and enjoyable. There’s not a progression nor a lyric here that offends, and its clever in writing (“Sometimes I can’t help but be a lesser person”) and in style, where guitarist Joe Asher really parallels some odd riffs asymmetrical to Grisham’s. If “I Keep Saying So Long” (off of 2004’s Mind is Not Brain) became a concert staple in 2004, then surely the band has some new live work cut out for them. It’s just fun. “Lila” rings in next with some of the same ol’, same ol’, saved by some “cute” instrumental harmonies and an addictive chorus.

Then there’s forty-seven seconds of chimes and sounds in the instrumental “Ms. Brown’s Morning Cup”, which jumps right into the driving and declarative “Supergang”, which bounces some thanks to dirty garage-blues riffs. The signature hook, “We’ve got time to swim together”, rings in again and again, but for some reason the adhesive’s rubbed off compared to three tracks earlier. Next up, “Motel Man” is all too much of a 90’s cinematic experience, better played off in a montage than on an album with all too similar hooks.

Things calm down some, though. “Relax And Degrade” is a much needed ballad, where Grisham can pace himself more. While one of the slowest tracks on the album, it still rumbles around, and its in that sense that the band tires upon the listener. There’s so much going on that there’s not a moment to reflect. Some might revel at this erratic pattern, but its tiring on a full listen. Thankfully, “Majestic Raincoat” is a simple, straightforward song, featuring some great guitar licks and wonderful, if not bittersweet, lyrics (“When my body’s dead/And I can feel the rain run through my head”). It’s a song like this which makes you understand the sweet slice of simplicity, which seems necessary for the all acoustic, heart warming album closer, “Home Movies.”

Some bands feel they need to go the extra mile when they follow up a successful release. Unlike the norm, Mock Orange remains consistent with what it knows, and it shows on Captain Love. There are sounds here that many could probably have dug up four years ago, but who cares? It sounds great, it feels good, and it never falters on being honest. One might have expected somewhat of a departure and for that, they might consider reading between the lines lyrically;however, Captain Love is a straightforward release from a band that’s comfortable at staying close to home, both literally and creatively. There’s ambition in that, right?

Check Out:
“World of Machines”
“Song in D”