Dean: On The Murder Capital’s “When I Have Fears”

Say what you want about the Irish, we managed to swerve the whole landfill indie thing. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, cast your mind back to the early 2000s and the songs that probably populated your first iPod.

The opening shots of this brave new millennium saw a rush of bands emerge in the UK like a mob of bargain hunters on the first day of the January sales. With these fashionable young guitar stars aping all the familiar British rock touching points – The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Jam — music journalists declared the scene every bit as good as the post-punk revival happening in the US, and even dared to envision a world where they didn’t need the Gallagher brothers to sell magazines.

For all the bluster, most of the records were average or terrible. I imagine the last generation of music buffs to buy CDs have largely banished the polycarbonate discs produced during that time period to local second-hand and charity shops. (Nobody listens to The Maccabees anymore, right?) Some groups are still with us ­– shout out to The Coral – but like the mighty kaiju at the end of a Godzilla movie, many returned to the sea with plenty of summer festival memories to look back warmly on, but without much of a musical legacy to speak of.

Still, at least landfill indie boasted enough bands to be dubbed an “era”. Talk around town of a new movement of Dublin guitar music seems premature. This embellishment has largely been built off two turbo-hyped new groups: Fontaines D.C., those polarizing purveyors of spiky post-punk with a thick local accent. And, of course, The Murder Capital, the band we are here to talk about today.

Last month saw the release of the group’s debut full-length When I Have Fears, an album that revels in well-worn sounds and old rock myths – a landfill indie record if ever there was one.

The Murder Capital resemble the sterner stars of the landfill indie canon. Easily detectable are the harsher tones and sense of gloaming of Nine Black Alps and The Editors, who themselves heavily gestured towards forefathers like The Fall and Joy Division. The five-piece (James McGovern, Damien Tuit, Cathal Roper, Gabriel Paschal Blake and Diarmuid Brennan) strangle their instruments to emit dense, murky soundscapes, creating sonic terrain akin to a featureless desert – stifling, but with few memorable landmarks to admire.

The flatness of the music is reflected back in the vocals. McGovern targets the kind of gothic ambiance that would make Brendan Perry or Ian Curtis proud. But his performance doesn’t yet have the same natural dramatic depth and he often sounds more like a young man simply doing an impression than someone with a shadow on their soul.

Elsewhere, the quiet guitar chords and suppressed whispers of “On Twisted Ground” reminds me of Rage Against the Machine’s cover of Devo’s “Beautiful World”. But whereas Rage ended their minimalist number after just over two-and-a-half minutes, The Murder Capital stretch the concept to over six minutes, which is far too long to support the track’s slight nature.

Redemption comes in the writing. McGovern has a skill for enjoyably bombastic lyrics: “I am a blissless star, corroded through the core,” are the first words recited on the album. And on “Green & Blue”, his prose has a dark elegance: “With their wings flung the choir sung their final song today/ As the doors appear to clear the space in which she lay.”

It’s frustrating then that band’s brand of doomed philosophy is undermined by McGovern’s habit of repeating himself. See “More is Less”, “Slowdance”, “Green & Blue” – rather than hammering his lyrics home, the repetitive performance drain the words of their power, making the singer sound trapped in a maze of his own making.

There are some nice flourishes: the unprocessed electric guitar chords three and a half minutes into opening song “For Everything” emerge like a beam of sunlight through dark clouds. The fluttering tom rhythms that propel “Green & Blue” bring back memories of the drumming on Bloc Party’s beloved debut album _Silent Alarm _– a landfill indie museum piece. “Love, Love, Love” is the group’s most daring instrumental, the guitars ringing out adventurously over the chugging rhythm section. The best song is “Don’t Cling to Life”, which kicks into life like a Sonic Youth jam, McGovern’s jaunty performance finding him in more comfortable robes.

Suggestions of a Dublin guitar music renaissance often omit more worthy artists than The Murder Capital. I’ve more affection for Bouts’ beach-bum vibrations and Pillow Queens’ melodic pop. Not to mention Girl Band, back to ferociously break down and recontextualise the whole of Dublin as they see fit.

In comparison, The Murder Capital frustrate. When I Have Fears is a charmless 2000s throwback – an album that revels in an antiquated rockstar ideal and is too slow to reveal its own discernible personality. For me, the critical reverence around the band, their ascendancy to the top of the Irish cultural zeitgeist, is premature. That doesn’t mean their undeniable talents can’t be better showcased if they iron out the errors and accentuate their clear strengths.

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Dean Van Nguyen: Dean Van Nguyen is a cultural critic and music journalist for The Irish Times, The Guardian, Pitchfork, Bandcamp Daily and Wax Poetics, among others. As well as pop culture, he writes about identity, youth, race relations and Dublin.

Reader responses

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C
at 11 September at 10:14

Finally someone addresses the ring people talk in hopes of it coming true. Great review

David Anthony Mc Geown
at 11 September at 18:01

thanks for reminding me of nine black alps x

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