Apparently writing jingles for car commercials in LA wasn’t cutting it for Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian, and they set out to make some music of their own. The time spent carefully crafting those thirty-second songs has most definitely paid off for the duo, with the ubiquitous “Safe and Sound” flowing through the mainstream since 2012. While their sound easily lends itself to, well, TV commercials, it remains simply feel-good music. All of the singles from In A Tidal Wave of Mystery are radio-friendly and lean much more into the pop than indie genre, but it’s the dance-compelling force of their music that can’t be denied. It’s no wonder that they are a big hit at festivals like Coachella and are consistently selling out shows.
Technically speaking, Merchant and Simonian do a great job of amping up their signature bright sound with the use of brass, which highlights their straightforward vocal stylings. The samples are light-hearted and add a fun dynamic to their music—like using the familiar voice of Frank Tavares from NPR on “Farrah Fawcett Hair” along with Outkast’s Andre 3000, adding some flare to the piece. It’s style that takes front seat to substance in much of their music, but the kind of style that sells records. This is most apparent in “I Sold My Bed, But Not My Stereo,” with its buzzy synths and funky beats, and “Kangaroo Court,” which is the most infectious track musically.
It’s in the live performance where Capital Cities really shine, however, engaging the audience and feeding into their energy. Spencer Ludwig has been known to sway the crowd by waving his trumpet in the air and playing at a fever pitch. Merchant and Simonian will sometimes join the party and get down to their own songs. They’ll even retro it up a bit by covering fun classics like “Stayin Alive” and Madonna’s “Holiday.” If this band is all about providing the best electro-dance party possible, they’ve succeeded. »
– Scott McHale