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Capital Cities refuse to?play it safe with ‘Sound’

Friday, October 25, 2013
By: Jed Gottlieb, Music

Like a flower blooming though a crack in the sidewalk, “Safe and Sound” blossomed in a Top 40 landscape dominated by cookie-cutter pop.
The breakthrough single from Capital Cities’ debut album, “In a Tidal Wave of Mystery,” “Safe and Sound” pulses with EMD energy while bouncing on a happy, hypnotic chorus. Oh man, and dig that groovy trumpet.
“Ryan (Merchant) and I wrote the song together before we started the band, and it sat around for a while,” Sebu Simonian said. “But we kept going back to it, tweaking it, changing it, adding that trumpet. We felt like we had something special in our grasp, but it took years to get it right.”
Before the duo formed Capital Cities, the two wrote jingles. They met in Los Angeles through Craigslist while searching for new musical collaborators. To support their pop dreams, they started writing for commercials. It turned into a three-year career.
“It kept us creative,” Simonian said. “We were always working, always creating and learning.”
But while they cranked out melodies for car manufacturers and soda companies, they were woodshedding such nuggets as “Safe and Sound.”
With personal cash, the two made an EP and began pushing “Safe and Sound” at radio stations. The single picked up plays at college radio, and Capitol Records took notice. This summer, after a half-decade of musical collaboration, the pair dropped their debut album in June.
“It was worked over, scrutinized, rewritten,” Simonian said. “Many of these songs developed over years. You wouldn’t recognize them if you heard how they started.”
The question many people have — including the suits at their label — is will the album spin off another hit? Capital Cities says it’s not concerned about repeating the success, probably because every song on the disc sounds like a potential smash.
The obvious next candidate is the disco electronica trip “Farrah Fawcett Hair,” which features Andre 3000 and NPR voice Frank Tavares.
“It was actually easier to track down Andre 3000 than Frank,” Simonian said. “Our manager reached Andre’s, and we emailed back and forth working on the track. With Frank, we had to find him through Southern Connecticut State University, where he teaches. Once we got him, he was actually pretty into our ideas.”
On “Farrah Fawcett Hair,” Tavares speaks odd non sequiturs (“Support for Capital Cities comes from lazy hooks,” “Back to the Future II,” “solar energy”) over a booming chorus of synths. Andre raps, and there are sound bites from fans. It’s pretty wild, but it makes the psychedelic dance tune unlike anything on pop radio.
With a little luck, the track can be Capital Cities’ next bloom among the gray concrete of Top 40.
Capital Cities, with Fitz & the Tantrums, at the House of Blues, Monday. Tickets: $27.50-$45; livenation.com.