British/Irish post-punk continues to thrive in 2023. But it looks like spoken word is out, and singing is back in.
If you’ve been following the recent wave of wacky post punk bands from the British Isles, you’ll have noticed that lots of vocalists over the last few years have been embracing spoken word – or at the very least a hybrid spoken-singing approach (the technical name is ‘sprechgesang’ I believe). In my 2022 black midi/Dry Cleaning double album review, I suggested using the term ‘ramble rock’ to refer to this new breed of band. However, as these new albums from The Murder Capital and Shame have proven, post-punk vocalists seem to be shunning ramble rock in 2023. Instead, they’ve rediscovered a lost vocal style known as ‘singing’. R.I.P. ramble rock.
In truth, singing is actually nothing new for Dublin post punk band The Murder Capital. Back when I first heard the band in 2019, they were delivering tortured crooning over brooding suspenseful guitar. Instead of jumping on the ramble rock bandwagon, it seems that singer James McGovern has continued to hone his tortured croon on Gigi’s Recovery. It’s richer and bassier than before (all thanks to Camel Blues apparently. Take note aspiring vocalists!). The result is a melodic and emotive vocal style that stands out from the more unhinged/deadpan spoken word styles of his post punk peers. More importantly, it fits the band’s unique instrumentation, which is slower and sadder than all the other British/Irish post punk bands out there right now.
Originally this album was going to be even sadder than it already is, but the band shelved it for being ‘fucking depressing’. As it still stands, the final product is still very bleak. The only truly optimistic track here is ‘Only Good Things’, and even here the optimism feels desperate rather than genuine. However, despite being so bleak, this album still delivers plenty of fun thrills. I absolutely love this band’s experimentation with effects – from the queasy pitch-shifted chords on ‘Crying’ to the weird robotic opening guitars/synths (I can’t tell what instrument it is) of ‘The Stars Will Leave Their Stage’. Meanwhile, ‘The Lie Becomes The Self’ through to ‘We Had To Disappear’ have some really creative intense drumming. However, I think the track that is the most excitingly unique is ‘Belonging’. There aren’t any other post-punk bands right now writing ballads this raw and weird. It’s like Lou Reed meets Radiohead – and I want to hear more.
Now onto Shame’s Food For Worms. The London rock band’s last album Drunk Tank Pink was the epitome of ramble rock, and I loved every second of it – so much so that it made the number 2 spot on my best albums of 2021. The album was chaotic but catchy, contrasting dense poetry and labyrinthine guitar harmonies with catchy hooks and addictive riffs. I honestly didn’t think this new album could compete with it. Having given myself time to fully digest it, I’ve come to the conclusion that Food For Worms is equally as goated. And it’s largely because of the singing.
Vocalist Charlie Sheen hired a vocal coach prior to this album. This has resulted in an even more dynamic performance. On top of the loopy sprechgesang and the manic barking and catchy football-chant-style choruses, there are now sweet Morrisey-esque performances on tracks like ‘Orchid’ that I first assumed was a guest. ‘Orchid’ is one of two ballads on the album – the other ‘Aderall’ is less sweetly-sung but more lyrically heart-wrenching. Drunk Tank Pink didn’t really have any slower tracks like this and captivated the listener through its intensity. Food For Worms manages to be just as captivating despite slowing things down due to the captivating vocals and fine-tuned lyrics. The instrumentation is also just as intricate and addictive, sporting new textures such as the psych rock wah wah guitars of ‘Six-pack’ and violent guitar screeches of ‘The Fall of Paul’.
They’re both excellent rock albums that will likely make my end of year list, but when comparing the two I think Shame’s Food For Worms is superior. Shame’s performances feel so much more fluid and the raw production helps bring an exciting live feel to the album (I’m willing to overlook some of the iffy mixing). Gigi’s Recovery is far from overly polished (I love the visceral sound of the drums), but the songs do feel a little more rigid. I’d love to hear this band getting a bit more rugged as they do at the end of ‘Return My Head’.
Gigi's Recovery by The Murder Capital: ★★★★☆
Food for Worms by Shame: ★★★★★