There was a moment about halfway through The Murder Capital’s recent set at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds of the almost surreal; singer James McGovern paused before sitting down on at the front of the stage, smiling wistfully to himself as around him the rest of the band made their instruments roar like heartbroken storms.
Calculated without question, it was an act entirely in keeping with a band determined to prove to everyone that they’re completely in control of their art.
The song in question was Slowdance, pared in two on When I Have Fears as it is live. The first part is funereally paced, almost naked, McGovern singing about disorientation and the confusion of almost being somewhere. The briefer second is related somehow, but only obscurely, like a distant cousin present in a few old photographs. As it unfolds the space around stretches noticeably and Damien Tuit and Cathal Roper’s twin guitars eke out an eerie kind of dread, a creeping knot that finishes with a forlorn, austere cello.
It’s to the Dublin quintet’s credit that this segment, sat proudly in the album’s gut, doesn’t overwhelm everything around it, but then each piece here is some sort of limb, all fighting for freedom, understanding, exposure or peace. When I Have Fears was made during a time in which the band lost a close friend to suicide, and one of their mothers, but also takes cues from the slanted perspective of American photographer Francesca Woodman – who also took her own life – especially on the towering Green & Blue, a song that feels like prophecy, that just is, six minutes destined simply to be that way.
There is an overwhelming feeling of self-possession here, but don’t mistake it for hubristic posturing. Neither is this young men cynically copying the post-industrial gloom of late 20th century northern Britain, as the Tom Waits-esque oddity How The Streets Adore Me Now demonstrates. For every familiar eyes-bulging, trance like rake of the ugly spotlight – Feeling Fades, More Is Less – there is, you sense, a determination to do away with the trappings of old showbiz and just leave it all to connection by chance.
It’s also a journey of absolutes: during the pressure build-and-release valves of opener For Everything the choices are all or nothing, no space or meaning to be found in between. At the other end, in waiting lies Love Love Love, on which McGovern feels in numbness neither ecstasy nor despair: ‘In the room where it took place/In the rain, the romance lay/My heart stood still’, the chorus just words without a place to stay. In this desolation, the sheer polarity these songs seem bound to, lies their fascination.
Some of this theatre comes from knowing you’re good at what you do. Some of it comes from wanting to make music that’s an abstraction from itself. On When I Have Fears these two are parallel roads which intersect like few, if any, other records will this year.
The Murder Capital have no need for maps, they’re exploring a territory of their own making.