Hans-Christian and his band mates in Captain of Sorrow are on the rise thanks to their fine debut effort Racetrack Babies, a twelve song collection with an inspired energy level practically bursting from the speakers. The song titles are culled from band names he considered using and Christian builds the collection around the idea each of these individual cuts sounds like product from an entirely different band. The same core four piece, however, are behind every song and they fill each composition with the raw, aching humanity Hans-Christian is aiming for with these performances. There’s an obvious intelligence underpinning the tracks as well that’s far more artful than many of their contemporaries while still establishing a strong connection with its intended audience. Racetrack Babies tackles adult subject matter with superb writing and entertaining musical vehicles wholly complementary to the players’ talents and the song’s subject matter.
The opening song “Hollow Empty Void” is a raw, dissonant alternative rock masterpiece with evocative vocals perfectly capturing the song’s spirit. It kicks off Racetrack Babies at a high energy level and they modulate the pace only slightly with the mid-tempo groove of “The Scarlet Pimpernel”. It features a confident, yet almost casual, vocal from Hans-Christian and uses guitar just as effectively as the opener, though in more compositional manner. There are some key flourishes built into the arrangement but, despite the jam origins of the material, they come off orchestrated with immense artistry and restraint. It’s to their further credit that The Captain of Sorrow is able to balance this so well with genuine rock spirit. “Buzzword Surfers” punches through the speaker with some hard-hitting, straight forward drumming that sets an immediate tone followed by a sparkling sheen of electric guitar laid over top. Christian’s vocal explores a number of moods while still handily hitting its marks. There’s a smattering of guitar fills in the song’s second half constituting a lead guitar break of sorts, but it’s unlike anything traditional you’ve heard. The cacophonous thrashing guitars at song’s end bring enough hell down on listeners that their effects will linger long after the song finishes.
“The Captain of Sorrow” takes an improbable turn towards a stripped back cut merging blues/gospel influences with indie rock fireworks. The call and response female backing vocals make for a nice contrast with Christian’s comparative dead pan and discerning listeners will detect the light touch of banjo slinking by deep in the mix. The staccato guitar work and steady, yet creative bass playing are final crowning strengths for the song. One of the best songs on the album comes with the painful, but deeply felt “Siamese Scars”. It uses dynamics in an inventive way and sets up its changes in a dramatic, but never overwrought, way. The general dreamy, jangling tenor of the song is squarely at odds with the difficult lyrical material and it makes for a more effective effort. There’s some jagged bluesy feel coming across with the penultimate track “Mississippi Assassins”, but it has an urgent rock beat and a hushed build finally paying off with a memorable release when the arrangement fully kicks in. “Skull Coppers” ends the album with a slightly disjointed, herky jerky pop confection, but labeling it as pop shouldn’t dissuade you that it’s a finale reeking of filler. It brings the album to a close on a brightly hued note and with many of the same outstanding qualities defining Racetrack Babies on the whole. The Captain of Sorrow has produced a compelling release on every count and one can only hope this proves more than a top shelf one-off project.