Before Capybara*, Carmen Caruso played in another band, Odd Owl. They disbanded and she went to Costa Rica for three weeks, a trip she hoped would help clear her head and give her a more assured musical scope. On the trip, she listened to a new LP every day, like a daily ritual to all the albums she’s never heard. She became drawn to psychedelic music more than any another genre.
“Summertime,” Capybara’s first release, has been percolating for about two years now, and the song’s sound is a rendered culmination of those few years, and her basement. After getting back from Costa Rica, Carmen started saving up for and buying vintage equipment: an old 70s Ampeg v4-B bass amp she nursed back to life, a Leslie she pieced together from various eBay sellers, a TEAC 4-track reel-to-reel tape deck, a couple ribbon mics, and a reverb plate. And it’s these recording/performing devices that give “Summertime” it’s dusty, outdoor fingerprint.
The whole song has a soft buzz to it, and it’s most prominent at the beginning of the song — there’s a far-away hush behind the opening bass line, which I think is the sound of the tape deck running. What I like most about the tape quality is how the graininess (if you can call it that) is soft, and in a backwards way, the song’s soft fuzz makes it sound smoother. Like, have you ever felt really large-grit sandpaper, the smooth kind you’d use to sand porcelain or something, and thought ‘This is smooth,’ even though sandpaper, by definition, not smooth? That’s how the “roughness” of this recording makes me feel, and it gives the sound itself a material quality that gives the song a lot of movement; mass.
But the vintage recording stuff gives more than just a sweeping, textural quality: In certain instances, the tape deck functions more like an instrument. Around the 1:30 mark, after the first chorus, there’s an ascending, glittery sound (I think it’s the sound of a tape sped or speeding up, like the tape loops in “Tomorrow Never Knows“). It sounds like a small woodland critter chattering to other small critters. When I think about psychedelic music, I think of that sound, and that if the genre were a company, that sound would be their jingle. It’s a cool sound — sped and pitched up bits of tape recordings — and a pretty direct depiction of an altered sensory state.
The recording and the song pretty seamlessly reinforce one another. The equipment manipulation bakes up the environment for the notes to play the way they do. The same way some animals are haired for heat, or some plants adjusted to partial sunlight, this song seems written for this recording. This is Capybara’s first release, but it seems safe to expect more from the group. Carmen is joined by David Rabkin formerly of Whalesoundz, Dakota Salazar, guitarist for Lords of Sealand, and Leanne Kelly from New Spell on keyboard.
*Editorial Note: Capybara is now known as Agouti.