Monday 12 August 2019

The Murder Capital - When I Have Fears

The Murder Capital's debut album is one of the most anticipated releases of the year on the back of three radio playlisted singles. They only tell a fraction of the story of an album that plunges the depths of human emotion, deals in human reaction to the most tragic of circumstances and asks the most important questions about love and life.

What is music? Many see it as entertainment, a way of switching off for the three minutes of a pop song that pricks your ears up and has you tapping your feet or as an artist it's a career, an awful word but one that seems to sit comfortably alongside so many buzz words in the industry these days. For some it's more, a matter of life and death, a way of coming to terms and confronting demons and connecting with people who have the same feelings, hopes and fears to share experiences and to try and block out the dark and let the light in by facing the darkness head on.

When I Have Fears opens with For Everything. It's a minute and forty seconds before James McGovern utters his first lines and already The Murder Capital have taken us on a journey. The song feels unstructured and coherent, like much of the record, but rather than this being an issue, it perfectly captures the mood and sentiments that these songs live and breathe by. A slow brooding build, a haunting siren-like sound in the near distance painting a picture of desolation, drums kicking in, like the throbbing of the brain when you're at your most confused and anxious, unsettling before guitars come from nowhere all happen before James sings his first words. The song keeps coming back to these elements, out of order, like those thoughts you can't shake when you're trying to find an inner peace.

"I am a blissless star, corroded through the core .... I'm dodging holes .... I am a weightless diver terrified and free" set the tone if you don't know what to expect. When I Have Fears is a soul-searching record, for The Murder Capital and for the listener, not to be consumed at the family barbecue or on a party playlist, an album that demands your undivided attention, your heart and soul and the willingness to open yourself up. Its conclusion is the repeated, increasingly agitated two lines "for everything, for nothing" as the instruments drop out and we're left with just James and Diarmuid's drums, an absolutely critical piece of The Murder Capital's jigsaw.

More Is Less continues the emotional battering that When I Have Fears imposes on the listener. "If I gave you what you wanted, you'd never be full" is the opening observation, capturing the inability to recognise being sated and having happiness in your life. The line is repeated, something that happens throughout the record which deepens the claustrophobic feel, the sense that we are being invited into a place where few are brave enough to go and explore.

"If I put my life in my back pocket, you'd know well that I kept all your belongings for the sweetness of their smell, and I love it" is such a romantic notion, but also a desperate one of being unable to deal with loss. That desperation is accentuated in the exclamation of "MORE MORE MORE, MORE IS LESS" where you can feel the overwhelming sense of confusion before the song breaks down and then builds back, with more questions being raised than answers given as is the case when the brain is working on overdrive and the heart is struggling to keep up.

Their second single Green And Blue follows. So few albums these days are ordered in such a manner that they are back-ended in singles, the need to hit the listener hard first and then fill in with the rest is one that The Murder Capital don't need to do so they don't. Six minutes and eighteen seconds long it's no standard single fayre either with its shuffling drums that seem to come out of the speakers at you in all directions, guitars that only come in when absolutely necessary - a trait that runs through this uncluttered record, but which makes it feel even more raw and intense - and a voice that sits dead centre seemingly alone amidst everything go on around it.

Like much of the record the lyrics feel like a battle inside the head - "I went into a state inside of thought and wandering mind, he'll relax as the amber sisters twist and whine" - with any escape route followed. Amber sisters might be a reference to the demon booze or not, but whilst the lyrics will be explicit to their author, the use of metaphors allows the listener to adapt them to their own situation. It manages somehow to sound like a top end independent single, but the minute you look and listen closer it reveals a whole different world of pain and emotion that frankly no one has, in our experience, managed in a long long time.

Slow Dance Part 1 starts with a revelation "Came home from somewhere, somehow covered in myself, came home from nowhere, somehow now I'm something else" to a bleak desolate soundtrack. The tension in the song is so dense it feels like it's enveloping and smothering you, accentuated by James' vocal that reeks of being lost amongst friends, alone in a room full of people - "nobody noticed but I've never been myself" with a shiver of apprehension and resignation. It's one-paced after the first few moments, but rather than leave us to be distracted, it draws us yet further into the malaise to the point you just want to give them a hug. And that's a key message from this record - to open up to those around you and survive together.  It segues into the instrumental Slow Dance Part 2, going deeper and deeper into the chasm, yet never engaging in moments of showy guitar solos or such tricks. The beauty here is in the simplicity of the emotional connections they make.

Much has already been about On Twisted Ground, a song explicitly about the suicide of James' best friend. That they are brave enough to include this on the record and to play it live tells you everything you need to know about The Murder Capital. We first heard it at Soup Kitchen back in May and by the end we were in tears. Even without them performing it feet in front of us, the impact is equally devastating.

A solemn bass line, subtle string arrangements and a compassionate production give the overwhelming sentiment of the song the space to exist to the point you can hear the linger in James' voice and the heavy heartbroken breathing as he tries to hold himself together as it reaches its conclusion. It's searching for answers in the futility of loss. "So the question now, will we always be on the twisted ground of our horrid dream?" and "my dearest friend, how did it come to this with your searing end into the abyss" are delivered with a sense of devastating helplessness. It's made us cry and reflect on our mortality and those around us and to remind us to tell those close to us that we love them.

The anger in Feeling Fades is a different one and where the lazy comparisons they've had with their brothers in arms in Fontaines DC at least make some sort of sense, particularly as the song reaches its conclusion in a hail of "la la la la la"s as the band create a merry hell around them. "These streets kept us all together" is the song's mantra, once again using repetition as the means of conveying the message and underlining it in as bold a font as humanly possible, hammering home the imperative that comradeship and friendship form a glue and a bond and a shield of protection. It works perfectly as the foil to draw you into their lair and cast their spell on you before they reveal their darker insides.

Don't Cling To Life is an adrenaline-fuelled headrush, introduced at live shows with the message "in celebration of death, this is Don't Cling To Life" It looks the inevitability of death straight in the eye and kicks it in the gut as the only protection we have from it is to not let it overwhelm and destroy us. It implores us to do the same, to live our lives to the full in the face of whatever horrors and obstacles are strewn across our path with "failing this let's dance and cry, till we remember why we die." Muscially the drums once again fuel James' battle cry and set the pulses racing, encouraging us to lose ourselves further in that dance of escapism.

A haunting solemn piano, located somewhere off in the distance, and a slightly muffled vocal usher in How The Streets Adore Me Now. Like On Twisted Ground earlier, the sparsity sends shivers through the body with each note feeling like it's right on the edge of being in or out of tune and the words feel even more stark - “I know I should have stayed with you that day, Your eyes wrapped round me still” feels like they're wrought with guilt and an inescapable questioning of "what if" that simply won't go away. It finishes with the simple adieu "my love, my light, my darkest" and our hearts break open one more time.

Love Love Love brings the album to its close, the title forming the chorus, repeated and as imperative as breathing in and out to our continued survival. Starting with just drums and then Gabriel, Damien and Cathal creating a sonic apocalypse through which the words come as some form of salvation, before dropping back down to reflect "in the rain the romance lay" painting the bleakest of pictures of a world falling apart in darkness and the rain acting as a metaphor for floods of tears as you hear the emotion etched into every word.

The album's final words are "goodbye, goodbye", repeated as many of the key sentiments in these songs, and sung with a heavy heart full of despair. Whilst the pain of loss can never be shaken and the catastrophic events that provide the theme for the album, When I Have Fears feels like it's a first stage of acceptance of what has happened, the first steps to trying to make some sense of it and, most importantly, stopping others from suffering the same fate.

It's rare that a record comes along and blows you away to the point that it feels like it's the only one that you want to listen to, on loop. Each time you submerge yourself into the subject matter, each time experiencing a different sense of catharsis, the revelation hits you that no one is alone or unique in their dark feelings and that the introverted nature of human emotion is a danger to continued existence if you don't let yourself open up.

When I Have Fears is an album that delves right down to the very core of the deepest recesses of the mind, through the words and the voice of one man using it as a way of surviving and maybe eventually at some point coping. It's not the most polished record you will ever hear, far from it, but it's stronger in its message for that reason and you sense it's intentional because life isn't polished, death certainly isn't and the mess that's left behind has no shape or form other than what comes to be.

You sense in the music the way the five of them have become one unit, stronger together than apart, their friendship writ for the rest of us in these ten songs as a lesson. How they follow this, if indeed they do as something so raw and visceral might lead them to burn out, is not for now. When I Have Fears will serve as their legacy in the same way that Keats' original poem has done for two centuries.

The Murder Capital's official site can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

They play Cork Music Zone (August 15), Dublin Tower Records (16 - 1pm), Dublin Button Factory (16 - 7pm), Kilkenny Rollercoaster Records (17 - 1pm), Limerick Steamboat Records (17 - 7pm), Belfast Strange Victory Records (18 - 4pm), Glasgow Monorail (19), Manchester Fopp (20 - 5pm), London Rough Trade East (22 - 1pm), Brighton Resident Records (22 - 6.30pm), Paris Rock En Seine (25), Vlieland Into The Great Wide Open (30), End Of The Road Festival (September 1), Athens Death Disco (26), Bristol Exchange (October 7), Nottingham Bodega (8), London Tufnell Park Dome (10), Brighton The Haunt (11), Birmingham Castle And Falcon (12), Leeds Brudenell Social Club (14), Edinburgh Mash House (15), Glasgow King Tut's Wah Wah Hut (16), Manchester Yes (18), Oxford Ritual Union (19), Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach (20), Amsterdam Paradiso (25), Rotterdam V11 (26), Tourcoing Le Grand Mix (28), Caen Portobello Rock Club (29), Cenon Le Rocher De Palmer (30), Toulouse Le Rex (November 1), Nimes Paloma (2), Angers Joker's Pub (4), Paris Nouveau Casino (6), Nancy L'Autre Canal (8), Belfort La Poudriere (9), Kortrijk Sonic City Festival (10), Hamburg Molotow (12), Berlin Music Und Frieden (13) and Cologne Artheater (14).

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