King Capisce’s Memento Mori is a good album. The jazzy take on light instrumental prog is a way of adding interest to an already done sound, and it’s sure to make some great background music. It’s just probably not something you’ll want to sit down and listen to in detail, though. If you have heard of The Mercury Program, you will know what kind of tone this album creates. It’s full of tinkling clean guitars, volume swells, the politest breakdowns you will ever find, and all around laid back goodness. A great deal of tapping, some excellent drum lines, and droning and waxing horns make this a worthwhile set of ambient music for prog fans.
There is a certain amount of mixed identity problems – rises in volume and complexity grab the attention in beautiful swells of finger picked and tremelo’d guitars. Sections which grab the listener’s attention, though, are a little off putting next to the ambient side. Spend time to listen to the breakdown in “Taming Panda” for saxophone oscillating rolling over lightly distorted guitars in a wailing, head moving chaos, and then see if you could listen with the same interest to “Stateless”, a song of slowly played chords. “Stateless” is for the background – it can’t really be appreciated as a song to sit down and listen to in its own right. The sections which bring your attention to the album will take it away from whatever else you are working on, and whilst those sections can be appreciated when just sitting and listening, you then find yourself having to go back to some other work as soon as the section is over. If you listen to this as an album of straight songs, you’ll get a bit bored. If you listen to it as background music, you’ll find parts jarring and out of place.
The addition which distinguishes Memento Mori from standard proggy post-rock, if there can be such a thing, is the horn sound. The horns, written and deployed well, don’t have a particularly nice sound to them. Their production is grating, and it sounds a little too much like they are synths (which they’re not), and appear to sit on top of, rather than with, the rest of the instruments. This is particularly striking if you listen for their dynamics – the softer horns are broadly the same volume as the louder horns, but with a different timbre. The rest of the instruments change both in volume and tone, leaving some of the quieter sections with a horn part that deserves to be there, but which doesn’t quite seem to fit. I don’t know whether this album would be of any note without horns, however, except as an uneventful selection of guitar noodling.
It’s not only the horns that could have benefited from another look during production. Some of the guitars, when the distortion is turned up to give a light sprinkling of grit to the lead lines, can feel a little thin. The chords played behind the horns and guitar ostinatos on “Angle” could do with some body, and the largely solo guitar build-up of “Last Words”, for example, turns into a treble haze at times.
Commenting on the production is necessary – it’s something you’ll almost certainly notice and lament on listening to the album – but isn’t something that should put you off giving this a listen. The writing is strong, especially on the guitar intro to “Rojava” (which is a joy), and the drum solo in the mid of “Taming Panda” is one of the more inventive I’ve heard in awhile. “House of Dust”, a very pretty selection of layered and poly-rhythmic guitars and basses, manages to naturally move between a number of different styles seamlessly, a feat not yet accomplished by some much bigger bands. If you need something to chill out to, but you still want technicality and interesting time signatures, you could do a lot worse than checking out King Capisce. Just be aware that you’ll be broken out of chilling whenever there’s a breakdown, and then start again after that 30 seconds is over.
Notable tracks: “Rojava”; “Taming Panda”; “House of Dust”
FFO: The Mercury Program, Do Make Say Think