After beginning life as Dark Captain, Light Captain, and releasing debut album Miracle Kicker in 2008, the East London five-piece have taken the wise move of removing the “Light Captain” part of the name and return as the altogether more appealing and easily typeable Dark Captain, bringing with them sophomore record Dead Legs & Alibis. Aside from darkness or an interest in noir that dropping the “light” suggests, there’s something very English about the new album, with the acoustics of Nick Drake a clear influence, along with Carnival of Light-era Ride. In fact, if Mark Gardener was ever to return with a new record, it might sound a heck of a lot like Dead Legs & Alibis.
At the fore on the record are the soft, breathy vocals of Dan Carney and the cyclical guitar lines that he and fellow guitarist Giles Littleford weave through the songs; this of course nods towards folk and pastoral psychedelia, hence the comparison to previous Nick Drake, but there’s also some Robert Wyatt in Carney’s voice. However, despite these touchstones there’s also a groove present in many tracks – not quite motorik, but getting there – that adds a little more colour to the Dark Captain palette.
This is evident on opening track ‘3 Years to Go’, powered by the circling guitars and background drone but also by Laura Copsey’s subtle brass and burbling electronics. As the track builds and builds to a quiet crescendo, Carney sings “it never ends, before it starts again / still three years to go, if you ever remember”. Resigned harmonies follow, and it’s a lovely start to proceedings. ‘Submarines’ is darker in tone, led by ominous guitar and piano that matches the lyrical content telling of a difficult relationship. Carney sings “we shouldn’t have to try this hard / too many obstacles we can’t see past / we shouldn’t have to try this hard / you take it so far down we’re off the chart”, as the song loops back on itself. It’s more the Dark Captain of Miracle Kicker, a folk song with a dark edge, the male companion to some of the songs on Peggy Sue‘s Acrobats.
‘Long Distance Driver’ provides some relief from the darkness, a gentle ditty based around acoustic guitar and electronics, before ‘Right Way Round’ kicks back in with looped guitars and a martial drum beat and really comes to life with a blissed-out shoegaze chorus dripping with harmonies. It’s followed, though, by the disappointing meander of ‘Fade’ which is too close to being a tribute to Nick Drake and his ilk. Thankfully the jaunty brass and piano rhythms of ‘Different and Easier’ pick up the pace, the upbeat nature of the track clashing with the introspective and dark lyrical content. ‘80000 Reasons’ is very similar in tone, and skips along in smashing, almost mariachi style before soaring away thanks to a spiralling and thrilling outtro. It’s disappointing then that two out of the three final tracks are not really worthy of what’s come before, only ‘Ex Detective’ with its backward loops, sunny harmonies and chiming rhythms, captivates.
Dead Legs & Alibis is certainly a step up from Dark Captain’s debut record, and with the expansion in sound it only bodes well for whatever the band does next. In Dan Carney they have a fine songwriter and singer, and by allowing Mike Cranny’s bass and Laura Copsey’s brass and electronics to explore unchartered waters, Dark Captain’s acoustics are now sailing across wildly more interesting seas. Be assured: they’re not the finished article just yet, but this is definitely a move in the right direction.