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The best music isn’t always the cleanest. For the last year or two, Vermont musician DEAN WELLS has been proving that yet again, with the DIY lo-fi rock he creates under the name THE CAPSTAN SHAFTS. Following in the tradition of his hero ROBERT POLLARD, Wells writes short super-catchy songs, records them on what sounds like an old beat-up 4-track machine, gives them evocative titles, and releases them as often as he can.
The Capstan Shafts are no mere GUIDED BY VOICES rip-off, however. Ultimately what makes their music so compelling isn’t the style of it, but the songs. Wells has a gift for writing songs that are both enigmatic and direct, songs that speak to real-life feelings and events in straightforward, often humorous language while retaining a sense of mystery and ambiguity.
Fuzz is a big part of The Capstan Shafts sound, but each successive release has sounded less noisy and more streamlined. Even though I value the use of fuzz as to create atmosphere, that cleaning-up has helped accentuate how well-crafted the melodies are.
Each release has also broadened the style of music that Wells plays, while still remaining distinctly his own. The latest CD is the 6-song EP The Sun Don’t Get Things Done (Without a Little Help from Everyone), released under Wells’ own label name Ladder the Christmas Monkey and available from Asaurus Records’ Distro. It follows in the vein of the last Capstan Shafts full-length, The Sleeved and Granddaughters of the Blacklist (Abandoned Love Records) by being mostly acoustic and occasionally country-tinged.
Starting with the opener “Hearthrobgoblins,” each song on the EP is loosely played, with Wells, through the magic of multitracking, often singing harmony and lead and background while playing all the instruments. “Lower Costa Rica” is a heartfelt love song to a place (“You are the world to me / Beautiful and scarred by man”). “She Sees the Good in Everyone (Because She’s Not Very Bright)” is a perfectly catchy pop-rocker, with bluesy guitars lurking in the background. It’s a silly yet not-that-silly song that practically begs you to turn it up loud and sing.
The EP closes with a sweet campfire-style sing-along that references the title of the EP’s first track while encouraging listeners to take life slow and easy. That message coincides perfectly with the loose and laidback style of rock in which Wells excels. He’s an amateur in the best sense of the word, creating music in his own unique way, for the love of it.
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