Captain Yonder sounds like ghosts from some distant past, singing about the present.
The group is named after a man who actually existed. The band's founder, Ryan Pfeiffer, says he befriended Captain Yonder years ago at a trailer park in Wyoming, known unofficially as the Felony Flats.
"I met him at a bar on the verge of this trailer park, and he was roaring drunk, telling me about a hit man that he knew, and he was asking me whether I needed any services."
As Pfeiffer tells it, he accompanied the 70-something captain back to his trailer where they drank some more. In the wee morning hours, Pfeiffer discovered Mr. Yonder was an exquisite folk musician who had a storehouse of unrecorded songs dating back to the 1930s.
As their friendship grew the captain became Pfeiffer's musical mentor. He says the two most important facets of the original Captain Yonder's songs are the two things he misses most in the music of today -- melody and meaningful words.
I think that life is fundamentally about madness, in life and death. And I see it around me. I see it in all eras.Ryan Pfeiffer of Captain Yonder
"It's a melody that's capable of being carried by a single voice, and it's a coherent meaningful body of lyrics that actually means something, that's not just a bunch of ad hoc associations and reflections," Pfeiffer says.
Building on those lessons from the group's namesake, Captain Yonder's music and lyrics draw from multiple sources, and deliberately conjure many different time periods.
In one song, the lyrics sound like a journal entry from a 19th century American pioneer. In another, the listener is transported back to Medieval times. City Pages music writer Rick Mason says it's hard to tell whether Pfeiffer is projecting himself through his songs, or creating characters.
"Either way, the lyrics are very effective in creating sort of this strange gothic atmosphere, where there's this sort of unsettling feeling or feeling of grim portent, or whatever you want to call it," Mason says.
Some music critics have described Captain Yonder's music as psychedelic folk. Mason refers to it as chamber folk music mixed with heavy "Americana" or "roots" influences.
"And the way they approach it, in this very refined but scary manner, I think is what sets them apart," Mason says.
If the tone of the music is unnerving, so are the words. There are repeated references to blood, anger, killing, death and madness. When asked whether he's trying to get into the head of someone's who's insane, Ryan Pfeiffer says no.
"I think that life is fundamentally about madness, in life and death. And I see it around me. I see it in all eras," says Pfeiffer. "And I see that as a fundamental guiding principle in human behavior, which I think is in large part a reaction to that."
Captain Yonder marked the release of its new CD, entitled "Captain Yonder," Feb. 10 with a show at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.