Ever since they emerged from the primordial soup of the new Idles-empowered wave of post-punk, The Murder Capital have always strived to be more. Their debut When I Have Fears laid the groundwork in being more heaving and black-eyed than practically every contemporary in sight; more ‘post’ than ‘punk’, if you like. Fontaines D.C. and even Idles themselves would go on to toy with similar palettes, but the genuine article always stood as The Murder Capital.
As such, like the similar work of their emulators, it’s not shocking that their mainstream ripples were significantly smaller. Whereas post-punk has since continued to drift further towards the snappy and the motorik, The Murder Capital’s instincts have taken them in the complete opposite direction. And as a result, they’re a bit harder to get to grips with. Maybe you can draw up parallels to Black Country, New Road there, the band who’ve found the greatest success in disassembling post-punk to reform their own experimental, sprawling tapestries.
That’s the higher bar that The Murder Capital seem to want to clear, or at least the implication given off by Gigi’s Recovery. Here’s an album lodged firmly in the ‘critic-ready’ end of post-punk, where it’s more deliberate, meditative nature put it right in the firing line for accusations of pretentiousness to be lobbed it’s way. And maybe that’s true, but it is for Black Country, New Road too, and just like them, The Murder Capital know exactly the right pace to let things unravel and grow.
As such, it’s a lot less direct in getting to where it wants, though that’s also part of the appeal. There’s a palpable tension built up throughout, as songs with wind and tighten up as they progress, largely thanks to some phenomenal drumming from Diarmuid Brennan to crank it all up on the likes of The Stars Will Leave Their Stage and We Had To Disappear. What they lack in the brusque punch of their peers, The Murder Capital make up for through sheer force of will, and the creativity that comes from that. The slate-grey post-punk guitar tone is made to feel a lot bleaker against a more dominantly foundational bass, leaving songs like Crying or Ethel to feel far more imposing and grand. Meanwhile, A Thousand Lives jitters in its percussion against inclement waves of synth and reverb, while album centrepiece Belonging amounts to little more that faint whistles and taps, as the breadth of The Murder Capital’s oeuvre fully explores itself.
Admittedly, it does take a bit of time to sink in, but that’s always been true of The Murder Capital as a whole. Instant gratification isn’t really their thing, to where the most outwardly catchy song on here Return My Head, for as decent as it is on its own merits, sort of feels out of place. There’s just not the same swell or build to it; it’s more like The Murder Capital’s attempt to replicate the scene around them than add to their own arsenal. There’s more longevity when they’re on their own path, largely through songs with the space to evolve and grow, and cement themselves as both strong components of the burgeoning post-punk movement, and ones that stand out within it.
For the most part, Gigi’s Recovery accomplishes that hugely. The more contemplative air really moves that forward, on an album comprised of ruminations of life and existence chiseled into poetry from James McGovern’s implacable drawl. He’s a bit of an acquired taste as a vocalist (and when he forces himself below even his lowest natural register on The Stars Will Leave Their Stage, there’s a noticeable clunk), but there’s a winding, fittingly Joycean approach to humanity that he as a singer brings. The moments of light offer a lot here, as explorations of being in love on A Thousand Lives and pure desire on Only Good Things have an exaltation to them testing the surface pressure. Similar is Ethel, a vignette on growing up and starting a family, and finding something more than one-time hits of pleasure and hedonism, in what’s far and away the best song here on the basis of real candour and resonance.
It’s all just a really cogent, comprehensive step forward for The Murder Capital, and a solidifying bit of evidence for their status among post-punk’s most vital and interesting current acts. At least, it feels fair to say that now when they’ve fully found their feet, and evolved into a band who can envelop equally as much as they work to distance themselves from the pack. That couldn’t be truer on Gigi’s Recovery, an album defined entirely by its own sense of direction and purpose, and frequently works wonderfully for it. Not only is it a considerable step up, but it’s a redefinition of The Murder Capital that fits them beautifully.
For fans of: Black Country, New Road, shame, TV Priest
‘Gigi’s Recovery’ by The Murder Capital is released on 20th January on Human Season.
Words by Luke Nuttall