The UK’s Specialist Subject Records has been steadily building a catalog of great British indie punk over the last few years and Muncie Girls’ From Caplan to Belsize is no exception.
I first came across Muncie Girls through the absolutely excellent self-titled EP they dropped in 2011. The three tracks on that EP, particularly the first two, are incredible: passionate, energetic, smart, and full of hooks, so my expectations were high for From Caplan to Belsize. And they were met! Sort of . . . . Caplan sees Muncie Girls taking a completely different direction from that early release. The more frantic and raw sound of the EP, which is more like that of label-mates Bangers, is replaced with a much bigger but simpler and more controlled pop-punk sound. This doesn’t come as a surprise, though; Muncie Girls have been evolving this way ever since then.
“There’s more hooks than a slaughterhouse
for pirates . . . It’s bursting at the
seams with chord progressions that
would make a statue nod its head.”
The best thing about Caplan–the title of which is a reference to Sylvia Plath’s, The Bell Jar–is how catchy it is. There’s more hooks than a slaughterhouse for pirates. It’s bursting at the seams with chord progressions that would make a statue nod its head, complimented perfectly with controlled, energetic drumming that has some excellent moments. The bass is deep and powerful and drives the songs forward with confidence. Bassist and vocalist Lande Hekt isn’t afraid to withdraw her instrument at times to let the music gain momentum from its absence and burst forward with renewed vigour when it returns. In short, she knows when to pull out, and as many young couples know, that’s a valuable skill (I am genuinely ashamed of how not funny that was but I’m keeping it in). The bouncy but calculated way the rhythm section compliments the guitars draws parallels with Great Cynics, who are also label-mates (see–Specialist Subject Records is the shit). This is evident too in the melodic vocals and upbeat nature of both bands.
The lyrics on Caplan are very simple and without layers, but their strength lies in the vulnerable honesty they express. They’re direct and unapologetic, about coming to terms with personal issues as well as problems in society. This can range from the beautifully heartfelt, To my sister, you’ve always been there. When I was thirteen I lost/all my friends and you bleached half my hair, from ‘Social Side’, to the blunt feminist message of ‘Respect’, which is one of the best tracks on the record. It’s about respect for women and fellow human beings, rape jokes, and possibly the effects of rape itself, or at least how it equates to the rape culture we all live in and sustain:
You weren’t taught it–respect; a sense of value of your equivalents. It has a knock on effect: misogyny and tolerated violence . . . . For the next few years you can laugh and joke about your next victim, but when you’re all grown up and your daughter cries you’ll be sorry you did this . . . . And it’s started again–another girl has lost her energy. It’s so easy to pretend that this doesn’t happen in our society.
This message is one that’s repeated throughout the album. It’s paired well with the self-conscious honesty of the more personal songs. Hekt’s voice shines throughout. Sugary and sweet, it gives the whole album an optimistic feel. That said, I prefer the vocals of the self-titled EP. It’s not that they’re worse on Caplan—they’re probably better, actually—it’s just that they’re more restrained and poppy. Hekt sounds like a completely different, and somehow younger, person, so much so that I had to make sure they were actually the same band. I’m sure this is exactly what she was going for, so in that sense it’s a great success, but personally I prefer the more fast-paced and urgent vocals on the EP. And this is true for the album as a whole. Muncie Girls have without a doubt nailed the simpler, brilliantly catchy sound they were going for, placing themselves shoulder to shoulder with the best of the genre, but I do wish just a little bit more of the punk-tinged energy of the 2011 EP had crept in to Caplan. However, I am aware that I’m looking too far into the past. Muncie Girls have been exhibiting this more restrained but dripping-in-hooks sound for years (by the way, check out their awesome cover of The Ramones’ ‘Pet Sematary’), and their latest effort takes this to the highest level.
“Muncie Girls have without a doubt nailed
the simpler, brilliantly catchy sound
they were going for, placing themselves
shoulder to shoulder with the best of the genre.”
With From Caplan to Belsize, Muncie Girls take their infectious poppy indie punk and lift it off the ground completely. Never have they sounded bigger or more sure of themselves. The downsides are an at times over-simplicity within the music and the repetitive nature of the songs, but overall, this is a record stuffed full of catchy riffs and sweet melodies that demands to be played again and again and again.
Stream the record here: From Caplan To Belsize by Muncie Girls