It’s often said that a musician or band is almost always at their peak creativity within the early days of their career, releasing a debut that will never be topped in terms of originality by their subsequent releases. With Cap’n Jazz (along with a whole lot of other emo bands to be completely honest), it’s difficult to truly gain a notion whether this statement holds true, after the band imploded into breakup within the year of the release of the ludicrously titled: Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards in the Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We’ve Slipped On and Egg Shells We’ve Tippy Toed Over or Shmap’n Shmazz for short. What’s more, out of the two Kinsella brothers who were quintessential to the band’s final composition, one went on to front legendary Midwestern emo band American Football whilst the other moved off to work with indie rock band Joan Of Arc who were on the receiving end of many harsh reviews from the likes of Pitchfork over the span of the 2000s. Clearly, there’s a reflection of a divergence of acclaim and success between the two brothers, providing both support and refute to the aforementioned claim.
Nevertheless, their only genuine album, Shmapn Shmazz, stands as a monolithic cult offering within the midwest-emo genre and to a lesser extent, the broader post-hardcore and music sphere. A truly unique offering, the Kinsella brothers along with bassist Sam Zurick and guitarists Victor Villarreal and Davey von Bohlen do their best to capture the frenetic energy and angst that comes with youth and growing up, packing an incredible amount of emotion into the 32-minute runtime. Frustration, joy, sadness, excitement, triumph, hope and everything in-between are densely packed in here, bleeding into a frenzied messed of beautiful nostalgia and energy. What’s more, the music itself is uncontrolled, chaotic and sounds as in-the-moment as humanly possible, with guitars and drums doing their best to outplay each other in brash feverish choruses only to restrain in moments of soft melody that rarely flesh out into larger movements. Songs frequently fleet between differing musical moods, tones and dynamics, refusing to remain constant, instead allowing for hints of complicated, jittery catharsis that you’ll miss if you blink. One thing that does remain constant however is that it’s always incredibly catchy, both in instrumentation and lyricism, encouraging the listener to get up and just move to the music, feeling first and thinking later.
Composed mostly of teenagers at the time of recording, the album is a product of pure passion rather than perfected technical ability. In a sense, that’s often been the case with the best emo releases and it certainly works well here. This is perhaps best showcased in Tim Kinsella’s off-the-wall and widely unorthodox lyrical style that is present throughout the release. What initially seems like a random assortment of statements and unrelated lines that don’t particularly seem to fit well together or tell a part of a bigger story, actually reveal a layered richness after subsequent listens. There was a time where this was all that I’d listen to and certain lines have become permanently etched into my brain, inciting me to revisit the album every so often and dive into the wildness of it all. Particular lyrical standouts are found in the frequently poetic imagery spaced across the tracks. Think: “Heyyyyyyyy, hey coffee eyes // you’ve got me coughing up a cookie heart”, “The Van Gogh sky that shrinks the city that shrinks me” or “Have I called you today? // Yesterday I called you never” on Little League, Flashpoint: Catheter and Planet Shhh respectively. This unabashed and quietly truthful method of writing remains strangely relatable despite the presence of its abstract nature.
For me, Shmapn Schmazz was one of those rare first time listens where I could instantly tell that the album was going to become a favourite. Yet, even after countless listens, it still hasn’t grown stale and I find something new to enjoy every time I listen, each song as intrinsic to the whole as another and a worthy choice for a favourite. Also definitely worth checking out is the second half of the Analphabetapolothogy compilation (only because the first half is just this album) which is full of fantastic demos, live performances and other loose tracks that the band recorded while together. While it’s not an album for everyone, and it can easily be argued that it’s a bit rough around the edges, Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards in the Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We’ve Slipped On and Egg Shells We’ve Tippy Toed Over is a thoroughly rewarding LP that may just become a new favourite.