The airy, funky beat that kicks off “Sycamore,” the first single from Brooklyn’s Space Captain, has a low-key, not-quite-but-almost-danceable quality about it. In the song, lead singer Maralisa Simmons-Cook recounts a story told to her by her dad about a love triangle he was involved with, and how he was ultimately betrayed by people close to him.
“It’s not an upbeat topic, but sonically it’s probably the most pop track on the album,” she says.
Details in the song are obscured, but it has multiple layers, and while it’s one of the more lighthearted songs on their debut album All Flowers In Time, it also hints at the record’s larger thematic concerns.
“The album has kind of a double meaning. Mostly it’s referring to the unraveling of different tales: betrayal, heartbreak, love songs. It’s a mix of my own stories and other people’s stories,” she says.
There’s also a very diverse sound to the record. At times it’s lighthearted pop, like “Sycamore”—other times, it gets much darker and more experimental. The main ingredients include R&B and synth-pop, with a hint of jazz, but goes off into some interesting territories like Bossa Nova and straightforward rock ’n’ roll.
The group worked on it for more than a year, going into the studio, recording, editing, changing and re-recording. It’s an interesting coming together of the group’s debut double-single release Easier/Remedy, which was made up of fairly typical R&B love songs, and the follow up EP In Memory, a nearly structureless, sonically overwhelming psych-electropop record.
“‘Easier’ and ‘Remedy’ were very basic three-minute R&B songs. We wanted to see what we could make if we weren’t putting ourselves in that box. I think of the EP as just one mood, one piece,” says Simmons-Cook. “When we were making this album, we were making a conscious choice to come back to making pop music as best we could, but not in a commercial way.”
Really, In Memory was the first step of Space Captain being a band. When the singles were recorded in 2013, it was more of a recording project between Alex Pyle and Simmons-Cook, plus some other friends. British label Tru Thoughts found the first singles on Bandcamp and asked to re-release them, so Simmons-Cook and Pyle put together a live band, which currently fluctuates between three to seven members, depending on the show.
Pyle’s musical interests had changed somewhat by that point, and were more in the realm of D’Angelo and J Dilla. The addition of second guitarist Mike Haldeman, who was a math rock and Radiohead guy, led the way to lots of soundscape overdubs. It’s chaotic, but in a good way. Simmons-Cook took the opportunity in these new complex songs to explore what she was going through at the time on In Memory, which ended up being a much darker record than the new one.
“It really is a dramatic switch from writing love songs to writing about something real and negative. That changed the mood up a lot,” Simmons-Cook says.
There are moments where the new album goes into similar territory as the EP, but its strength is in its embracing of structure. It gives Simmons-Cook more room to dig deep into herself, and sing about her relationships and personal experiences with more nuance. The album’s second single “Blue” explores the feeling of numbness after dealing with emotional trauma for an extended period of time, and how it can close you off to your feelings.
On this record, the group found that they didn’t always want to go dark. A few love songs even snuck onto the record.
“It’s funny, ’cause I wrote these songs and then I was like, ‘none of these have anything in common.’ But then I saw how little chunks of love songs were interacting with other songs about anxiety and trauma,” Simmons-Cook says. “I’m hoping people like that, and it keeps them on their toes so it’s not all one sound.”
Space Captain performs at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 6, at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $8. 429-6994.