A good opening line can make all the difference. Who can forget that “Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools”? Or the call to “Load up on guns, bring your friends”? Or indeed the imagery of “Johnny’s in the basement, mixing up the medicine”?
Kill The Captains’ second album may not have an opening line to stand with The Smiths, Nirvana or Bob Dylan, but it’s still pretty attention-grabbing. “I’ve been sick in my mouth,” cries singer Leon Carter on opening track Umami, “I can’t stand the taste of it, blue cheese and brocolli”. It’s the sort of introductory line that makes you sit up and take notice, and pulls you into eight tracks of ambitious, often experimental, psych-rock.
The Sheffield quartet’s second record has been a long time in coming – nearly three years in fact – but the break has obviously done them good. Sounds Mean is a leaner, tighter, more focused record than its predecessor, and although there’s a more polished, accessible tone on display, the band certainly haven’t had their edge blunted.
Share The Load encapsulates this perfectly – it opens with some delightfully bouncy Vampire Weekend-style guitar riffs, before slowly building into a cacophony of noise towards its climax. It’s indicative of the album as a whole – difficult to categorise and pigeonhole, and impossible to predict what’s coming next.
For example, lead single Disco Nazi is a pulsating, bouncy rocker, which is followed by the reflective ballad that is The Taking Of. The latter is the calmest moment on an album full of jittering, slightly unsettling, menace and is perfectly sequenced in the middle of the album as a respite from the chaos elsewhere.
The most startling thing about Sounds Mean is how huge it sounds – when Refutenic rumbles into view with a mighty bassline, then explodes into a wall of sound, it near takes the breath away. It’s so impressive that it’s easy to overlook the lyrics, which weave a macabre tale of medieval torture (“screw my thumbs and stretch my limbs and I refute it thus” runs the somewhat unconventional chorus).
The Trial is another highlight, with a superbly driving melody and deadpan lyrics like “it was tested on animals, with near matching DNA, if you have a reaction, use the survey to have your say”. Again, there’s almost so much going on in the song, that it takes a few listens to appreciate its genius.
The terrific title track closes the album, sounding for all the world like one of The Wedding Present‘s more restrained moments. Although Sounds Mean is an entertaining, accessible listen, it may prove too quirky and eclectic for mainstream tastes – yet when they can close an album as strongly as they end it (with a final line of “now step on my throat”), the seeds of longevity have surely already been sewn.