Captain, We’re Sinking’s last album, The Future Is Cancelled, became an era defining record for me – the kind of album with songs that get stuck to a time and place; a friend’s car, an old couch, a city I left – and it was all heralded by the band’s angular, aggressive, and melodic take on punk rock. It was the music of The Menzingers, the Lawrence Arms, Hot Water Music, and Lifetime, but younger, meaner, and more desperate than any and all combined. The Future Is Cancelled was a record destined to be searched for tattooable lines, mined for meaning, and sung loud with open throats. It’s odd to think that it’s been four years since that record came out, and since then, save for a solo album and a B-sides and demos compilation, Captain, We’re Sinking has been relatively quiet. The new album, The King of No Man, is a welcome return for the Scranton punks – and no less an achievement than The Future Is Cancelled, arriving with a more expansive sound and just as cutting lyrics.
Much is made of the fact that singer and guitarist Bobby Barnett is the younger brother of Greg Barnett of the Menzingers, and perhaps rightfully. There are similarities between the bands – both write songs harnessed to real life, with strong emotional imagery laid on top of a foundation of melodic punk. Where they differ is their approaches to these elements. The Menzingers’ new album, After the Party is an incredible record, but you can see the differences in how the Barnett brothers handle their subject matter. The Menzingers tell stories. Their songs have characters, and through these perspectives everything else is rooted. Captain, We’re Sinking tells their stories almost exclusively through themselves, and there is more mood and imagery, mixed in with plaintive calls of rage and heartache. Captain, We’re Sinking’s songs are almost like violent and sad prose poems, only a dream removed from reality – abstracted but not abstract.
The King of No Man thrives in this area of visceral detachment. It’s the separation between the entity and the experience, leaving only the latter as this amorphous blob of bleak human reckoning. Sonically, Captain, We’re Sinking mirrors this by straying further away from the core sound of melodic punk, and to a small degree the sound of their second album. Where big choruses and jangly-chord Springsteen worship has been a hallmark of a lot of their contemporaries, Captain, We’re Sinking take a lot of influence from the edgy, teetering musicality of post-hardcore. It’s actually kind of funny, of all the bands who claim Hot Water Music as an influence, these Scrantonites might be the only ones who kinda sorta sound like them. It’s not an imitation, to be sure – a lot of people take gravelly vocals and singalongs as the only thing Hot Water Music had to offer – but instead it’s the Wollard-esque riffs, like the long stream of hammer-ons at the beginning of “Water,” or even the sharp crunching in the latter half of “The Future is Cancelled Part 2” that reveals their influence.
Another musical element that shows up in The King of No Man is almost an inevitability – the emo revival is here to stay, and Captain, We’re Sinking have clearly taken influence from this outcropping of noodly and contemplative bands. You can hear it in the production, which is a bit cleaner, but not enough to betray the spirit of the band. Clean arpeggios and tapping appear across the album, but in true Captain, We’re Sinking form, they’re utilized as a new tool. The chiming notes that run across “Hunting Trip” still have just an edge of distortions, as if the slightest loss of control could send the track caterwauling into dark and dangerous territory.
Despite all these influences, Captain, We’re Sinking implements them flawlessly. The King of No Man’s strength is that post-hardcore and emo are blended so well into this very songwriting-oriented style so that nothing feels out of place. One of my favorite moments across the entire album is in the opener, “Trying Year,” where they effortlessly break into a bendy rock n’ roll solo between walls of stuttering and chiming riffs. Such are the wide and malleable boundaries of Captain, We’re Sinking’s core sound, it doesn’t even feel odd for them to wail into Single Mothers territory with the fuzzy hardcore of “Don’t Show Bill.”
I’ve talked a lot about Captain, We’re Sinking’s relationship and influence from other music, but one of the other things The King of No Man has to offer is a sly connection to their past. The King of No Man shares traits, themes, and even riffs with The Future Is Cancelled, as if the albums were meant to run parallel to each other. My favorite song on the album, “Books,” shares hospital imagery with first album banger “Annina, We Will Miss You” and questions of faith with second-album closer, “Shoddy Workmanship.” “Books” will live on in live sets for years to come, as the line: “hands skillfully guide machines” becomes an audience-crooned favorite.
There’s also the most obvious argument for The King of No Man being a companion piece to The Future Is Cancelled, with “The Future Is Cancelled Part II.” The song continues the leitmotif from the previous album, but it’s darker and bassier, murkier than before, filling out the space between howled lyrics. It can represent the parallelity of experience; a divided by years, but the cycle remains sort of thing. Or it can be a true sequel, a bookmark of now referencing the bent corner of chapter two – either way, it’s an interesting stylistic choice that adheres these two albums together as canon.
The King of No Man is the kind of record you want your favorite band to release. Captain, We’re Sinking have made a work of art that references their past while spinning it into something entirely contemporary. It is an incredibly satisfying way to grow, especially for a punk band, a notoriously difficult genre to mature in. But, in the face of age and time, new trends and old tendencies, Captain, We’re Sinking have managed to create a powerful, raw, tough, and sincere collection of new songs that shine in their quiet parts, so they can burn in their loudest.