Future, mortality and loss act as the foundation for the Caper’s newest effort.
Joey Cape, singer, songwriter and Lagwagon mastermind, must not sleep. Spending much of the past three years on the road with the band that’s made him a punk rock mainstay, it’s hard to believe he found the time to write another song, much less another record. Somehow he did, and somehow, in doing so, he has composed his finest batch of stripped down, acoustic indie/folk music to date.
Cape’s no stranger to side projects: he has released albums with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Bad Astronaut and Scorpios, just to name a few. He’s also a solo artist veteran with two previous LPs under his belt along with handfuls of singles, splits and EPs for good measure. For an aging punk, Cape has diversified his brand so much that it seems he’ll never be lacking an audience for whichever project he chooses to concentrate on next. Considering how tenuous the lifespan and quality of a punk rock band can be—though Lagwagon defied that trend just last year with their amazing new album, Hang—Cape has built a future for himself no matter which path he chooses.
Future, mortality and loss act as the foundation for the Caper’s newest effort, Stitch Puppy. He’s never one to shy away from exposing the darker truths of life, but over the past ten years, with the losses of several friends, his sad lamentations have morphed into wise, observational commentaries on where hope can be found in spite of the darkness. Don’t get me wrong, Stitch Puppy is not an uplifting record. Sometimes it straight-up hurts. But it has the underpinnings of hope, a subtext suggesting there’s power to be gained after loss—enough power to rebuild with the strength gained from being spit out the other end of the saddest experiences life has to offer and surviving. No, it’s not something to listen to on a bad day. It’s a record to listen to after the worst day imaginable. And it makes a bright, sunny day something to be savored.
Stitch Puppy begins with “Me the Witness,” which may be the darkest tune on the album. Cape makes good use of deep, dark string arrangements and electronic programming to accompany the slow scratches on his guitar. The chorus is the high point of the song. It acts as a thematic realization of digging out from underneath the darkest moments by using the full potential of vocal melodies that aren’t just strong, but damn catchy.
“Gone Baby Gone” and “Spill My Guts” act as foils to the opening tracks. Much more upbeat in structure, and lighter in tone, the songs are a nice change of pace that still manage to walk along the aesthetic tether. “Spill My Guts” is the standout of the pair. Cape draws influence from his punk roots on this one. He uses a simple progression with occasional flare that, if sped up and distorted with a full band, would fit nicely on a Lagwagon record. Chris Creswell of the Flatliners, and Yotam Ben Horin of Useless I.D. lend their voices to the song as well, bolstering Cape’s soft, somber vocals by contrast.
The piano-driven, “Broken” is completely beautiful in both breadth and brevity. It’s a simple, gorgeous little tune that shows off Cape’s talent as a songwriter. It’s the antithesis to just about everything he’s done up until this point without feeling out of place. Smack in the middle of Stitch Puppy, it’s both the record’s highest point, and also the perfect intermission from which to transition to the final tracks.
Out of the final four songs, “Cope” and “Tracks” stand out as some of the album’s finest work. “Cope” is one of the more positive songs, the title acting as a sort of call to the grieving and the definition of Stitch Puppy’s overarching lyrical theme. “Tracks,” the finale of the work, is a heartbreaker. Cape’s lyrics often take the form of anecdotal, personal, free verse poems, and, at times, the true meaning of his words can become cloudy to those uninvolved. In saying that, his talent in turning a phrase is powerful enough to make even simplest lines hold meaning in any context. As such, on “Tracks,” when Cape repeats, “He would’ve laid on tracks for you” it’s difficult not to feel the power in his words.
The quality of the songs mentioned above is such that the other tunes get a little lost. Putting the album on shuffle may very well allow those songs to stand out more, but within the context of the full project, the better tracks rise to the top so quickly they outshine the others. They may not be Cape’s best, but they are included on a record that features his best, and by proxy they contribute nicely into album’s flow.
Joey Cape has joked about being an aging punk for several years, both on stage and in a few Lagwagon songs. Unlike most punks coming up on 50, however, Cape has turned himself into a musician fans flock to because of the diversity of his talents, his unique voice, as well as his often brutally sad lyrics. His tireless efforts to push himself and create new music on an almost constant basis give the indication that. he’s not going away anytime soon. With Stitch Puppy, Cape proves he’s not just an aging punk, he’s like a cask-aged whiskey. The peaty stuff. Gritty, sometimes tough to swallow, but ultimately something that’s worth the winces, something that’s worth going back to anytime the opportunity presents itself.