Captured Tracks
by Doug Elliott

We here in the Primitive Futures department try our best to stay on top of our favorite labels, writing about all the releases as they come into the office. But it has been damn near impossible to keep up with Mike Sniper’s Captured Tracks label, who have hit the ground running with eight releases since the start of the year and many more slated for the near future. Captured Tracks is, to put it plainly, an outlet for Mr. Sniper to release records by bands he loves. In his mind it is “not a boutique label, “ and by that he means that the releases are not meant to become instant eBay collectables, and will remain in print as long as there are people buying them. Some will have limited edition versions with alternate artwork or bonuses, but even these editions are easily and widely available. Affordable, available and well made, Captured Tracks is the populist record label. So without further blather, allow me to catch you up to speed with the CT discography, from the beginning.

Dum Dum Girls, Dum Dum Girls EP (CT001)
Debut record from the mysterious L.A. woman who goes by the name Dee Dee. Dum Dum Girls is sort of the yin to Mike Sniper’s pre–Blank Dog unveiling yang, hiding behind false pictures and layers of reverb. This EP is a perfectly excellent reason to start a label, and I’m not surprised Sniper decided to make this CT001. I guess you could call it his label’s thesis, as it contains many of the same elements the releases that have followed strive for: direct pop, clean design, fantastic sound. “Catholicked” kicks off Dee Dee’s career with precision, a simple mid-tempo beat buttressing buzzsaw guitars and meshing with a voice cooing a beautiful melody. Four strong songs throughout make for a great debut, but she’ll have to evolve quickly to outsmart the rascally, already oncoming backlash.

Blank Dogs, Seconds EP (CT002)
Mike Sniper takes the bat for his label’s second release, and if your thin wallet is asking you to pass up one of the onslaught of Blank Dogs releases, this would not be the one to skip. But really, this is the only Blank dispatch of the year so far, and these tracks find us delving into Blank Dogs the band rather than Blank Dogs the bedroom project. At least it sounds this way, as the songs sound as filled-out as the monstrous live show, even if it is Sniper playing all parts but the drums. And yes, another level of clarity and accessibility is achieved, as if removing the mystery from the band has lifted a weight from his shoulders.

Repairs, Repairs cassette (CT003)
Did not receive this limited cassette but wanted to list it in the releases.

Woods, “Sunlit” b/w “The Dark” (CT004)
Another slab of oddball indie-pop from the always consistent Woods. Psych/Muppet vibes with warm keys and high-pitched vocals/guitars punch up these two brief songs. Woods remind me of those days down in the college radio station, skimming the stacks of promo CDs and CMJs, looking for that perfect song to play between Royal Trux and 764-Hero. I don’t know if it will get repeated listens in this homestead, but there are plenty out there who will wear the grooves of this one out.

Brilliant Colors, “Highly Evolved” b/w “Takes So Little” (CT005)
1980 meets 1994 femme-punk action from California. “Highly Evolved” is about as good as you can get in the genre, as good as any Kleenex or Raincoats songs at least. Brilliant Colors don’t try to pack too much in and definitely don’t play too fast, which sits well with me. Killer lead vocal and a smart solo at the end help the track stand out. “Takes So Little” is more in the ’90s garage vein, sounding more like Scrawl than anything from the artier sects. I was never a big fan of Scrawl, but one out of two songs are enough for me to want more, of which there is. (Their first single came out around the same time as this on Make a Mess Records.)

The Mayfair Set, “Already Warm” b/w “Summer Fun” (CT006)
First release from the Mike Sniper–Dee Dee Girl mail collaboration. Two beautiful guitar-pop numbers, sounding very organic considering the two have never met in person. Both songs sound like Sniper creations with Dee Dee additions, though I could be wrong, and each member’s input works to the collab’s advantage. “Summer Fun” is especially intriguing, as the duo trade vocals in the most creative ways. It really is a perfect match, and this single is the most definitely the crown jewel of these early releases. Here’s to hoping they can strike gold over many, many records.

Gary War, Opens cassette (CT007)
Gary War group live on WFMU. I did not receive a copy and haven’t heard what it is all about. Limited to 250 copies.

The Bitters, Wooden Glove EP (CT008)
The Bitters are a new project from one of the players in Fucked Up, Ben Cook, and Aerin Fogel, They play a heartfelt indie-slop that will most likely be the next big thing. Why? Well, first of all, it is difficult to exactly pin down where they are coming from (doo-wop anyone?) or why these four songs quickly become permanent residents inside your brain’s audio player. The songs just spill out, unabashed and without clutter. Both Cook and Fogel sing lead, sometimes together, but Fogel’s voice winds up stealing the show in its over-the-top glory. They have a stack of releases coming out on many labels, so watch closely.

Blessure Grave, Learn to Love the Rope EP (CT009)
This the first, and likely last, Blessure Grave release for Captured Tracks (or any label in the New York/Academy Records world), as one half of this guy-girl gothic gang is the guy who started a label (Down in the Ground), attempted to release some high-profile singles (one of which was a Blank Dogs record), took everyone’s money, and never sent records. In the meantime, this one goes out to press a winner and returns a loser. Which is a shame, because Blessure Grave have a lot going for them. Their sound is lean post-punk with a dramatic goth bent, macabre lyrical content and all. They remind me of a SoCal version of Naked on the Vague with a serious Ian Curtis obsession thrown in the mix. They even cover the Shadow Ring’s “City Lights” to end the EP. I find myself trying not to like this record, but am drawn to the absurdity of the whole scenario behind it and the music within. Also, this likely won’t get repressed because of the fiasco, so Learn to Love the Rope will soon become an unfortunate Captured Tracks collector’s item.

The Beets, Spit in the Face of People Who Don’t Want to Be Cool (CT010)
Hey there pardner, mind doing me a favor. How about kicking that tough guy ’tude to the curb and giving this Beets record a shot. Their debut LP is one big pot of cool dude fun, and if you get past the boys club aura and accidental Doug reference there is plenty to love about these tunes. The Beets are doing their own thing in Jackson Heights, Queens, playing communal shows around the city and gathering quite a bit of a moss from the jovial spirit they spread. Their sound is so basic it barely exists, featuring songs straight from the Phil Spector and Ramones playbooks and a set-up—acoustic guitars, electric bass, stand-up drum kit, multitudes of in-unison vocals—that lends the songs a classic feel. If an updated version of Animal House were being made, the Beets would be the house band. They play feel-good music that isn’t cheery, hazy music that isn’t druggy, all of it is so damn catchy. I can’t think of a better record with which to spend a summer afternoon.