Music, Opinions

New Irish artists for your Spotify playlist

Taking a departure from my “This Week In New Music” blog post this week. One, because I haven’t really been enjoying any new releases this week (ouch..) and two, because I’ve got some new Irish artists popping up on my monthly playlists recently and I thought it would be nice to share their names.

First up is Tim Chadwick. I only discovered Tim last week and since then I’ve had his Early Days EP playing on a loop. Never Wanted You is a smashing tune with a great music video to go along with it while Belong was the beautiful tune behind that heartbreaking/heartwarming Aer Lingus ad last Christmas. I can’t wait to hear more from this lad!

 

Next up is Catherine McGrath. This Northern Irish girl has got me seriously nostalgic for early Taylor Swift. It’s that easy-going, sweet pop-country that made everyone fall in love with curly-haired sixteen year old Swift, and while there’s plenty of it out there, it’s a bit more unusual to find it on this side of the pond. Cinderella is my personal favourite from the two EP’s.

 

Proving that the town really is a gem for music, Sion Hill is another Mullingar man to keep an eye on. He’s been signed by a German label and is releasing his debut album at the end of this month – I am expecting it to make an appearance on “This Week In New Music” that week! He’s also got great style and is very easy on the eyes, what’s not to love?

 

Finally, Ailbhe Reddy. I’ve been singing “I am just fucking paralyzed” (Fingertips) all day. Distrust is a dark indie track while Relent is poignant and powerful. I’ve no doubt the Dublin singer-songwriter has much, much more to show us.

 

Let me know if you liked this post and would like to see more recommendations of home-grown talent in the future!

Check out my Spotify playlist for August here

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Music

Album Review: Capacity by Big Thief

Big Thief’s sophomore album “Capacity” feels like a vessel for lead singer Adrianne Lenker to process her tumultuous life. Hers has been a life that is purpose made for storytelling; spending her earliest years in a cult, almost dying in a freak accident, spending years living out of a van, earning a scholarship for a prestigious music school.

These stories of love and loss, of violence and healing and of friendship and family, all come together to create the intimate Capacity. It feels as though you’re reading someone’s diary, a certain feeling that you shouldn’t know all this about another human being. Dark and personal lyrics are complimented with Lenker’s soft, tender vocals, while her bandmates create swirling melodies that package up raw, painful moments and offer them with a serving of finger-picked guitar lines and steadying drum beats.  

This mix of overtly dark lyrics and soothing music can be somewhat unsettling. This is the case on Watering especially where Lenker details an assault from the perspective of both the victim and the perpetrator. The lyrics are violent and distressing (“He cut off my oxygen / And my eyes were watering / As he tore into my skin / Like a lion”) with multiple refrains of the word “screaming” particularly unnerving. In the break between the point of view switching between victim and perpetrator, Lenker’s “oohs” almost sound more like she is screaming or wailing than singing.

This, the most disturbing moment on the album, transitions to Coma. A delicate track that begins only with guitar chords before gradually, harmonizing voices and restrained drums are introduced. It feels as though Lenker is staring blankly into the distance as she tries to come to terms with how her body has been violated. When she sings “when you wake up / you wake up…” it sounds as though Buck Meek’s finger-picked guitar line is gently awakening her from her “protective coma.” Despite the heavy subject matter, you could find yourself being lulled to sleep by the hushed vocals, so soft they’re almost a murmur.

Lenker also has a penchant for delivering matter-of-fact statements in such a way that they are deeply affecting. On opening track Pretty Things she makes sex seem almost like a religious ritual; “Holding my wrist to the bed / He was thrusting and moaning / And pressing his head / To my temple / His head was a temple.” Later on Mythological Beauty, the track that details the freak accident that almost took young Lenker’s life, she is blunt in her description of sex once again, peeling it back to its most physical elements, “Seventeen, you took his cum / And you gave birth to your first life.” Perhaps it is an attempt to humanise her mother or to make some statement about how all of us are the same, have the same urges, underneath it all. Or perhaps it’s just simply the way Lenker likes to write, prose among poetry. Much of Mythological Beauty is descriptive without embellishment and yet it is one of the most evocative tracks on the album. It conjures up memories of childhood; the sights (rented a house in Nisswa, Minnesota / shrapnel and oil cans, rhubarb in the yard), the smells (standing beneath the oak tree by the front door / you were inside baking bread), the sounds (you held me in the backseat with a dishrag, soaking up blood with your eyes / I was just five and you were twenty-seven / praying, “Don’t let my baby die”).

Mary, named after Lenker’s best friend, unfolds in a similar way, evocative and nostalgic. It’s a stream of consciousness, an outpouring of memories – floods on the plains, clothes pins on the floor, marching up the mountain, cheap drink, the marching band… The decision to use a piano and organ for the recorded version of this track (Lenker uses a guitar live) differentiates it from other tracks on the album. The twenty-five year old singer-songwriter’s voice is haunting against the background of the piano and organ on the sprawling track, confirming it as one of the standout moments of the album.

Capacity finishes with Black Diamonds, a foot-tapping, humming along kind of song. Max Oleartchik’s chilled-out bass line, Buck Meek’s lilting guitar and James Krivchenia’s drums combined with Lenker’s hushed assurance “You could cry inside my arms / you could cry inside my arms like a child / you could cry / you could cry…” create the perfect conclusion to an album that is full of tragic and painful moments that somehow still leaves you feeling warming by the time you’ve reached the end. From violent assault on Watering to near death on Mythological Beauty, Lenker invites us into the world of Capacity in which scars are created and healed, and there’s catharsis to be found in that release.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Music, Opinions

This Week in New Music: Lorde, Denai Moore & The Strypes

Here’s my pick of the albums you need to hear that dropped today

Melodrama – Lorde

Lorde

Alternative/Pop

Melodrama, the “Royals” singers sophomore album, is a concept album about a house party. From the excitement of that first great song  to the beginnings of a hangover, it’s worth listening to in sequence to get the full experience.  Despite the influence of the likes of Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Sara Bareilles) and Kuk Harrell (Justin Bieber, Rihanna), this pop album is still uniquely Lorde.

 

We Used To Bloom by Denai Moore

DenaiMoore

Alternative/R&B

Londoner Denai Moore’s latest album is a a beautiful and affecting glimpse into a young woman learning to love herself and accept her flaws. Moore explores topics like anxiety, greed and the “transformative” power of love here with extraordinary grace and poise. With smooth R&B beats and sincere vocals, “We Used To Bloom” is a pleasure to listen to.

 

Spitting Image by The Strypes

The Strypes

Indie/Rock

If you’d like a throwback to retro rock and roll, Spitting Image is your album of the week. It feels a little rock-y, a little blues-y, a little indie, but it’s a mix that works well.  The Cavan natives third record is more polished than their previous offerings but the rawness of a good live performance is still very much tangible.

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Music

Album Review; For A Moment, I Was Lost by Amber Run

After a turbulent 2016, Nottingham natives Amber Run returned Friday with their silver lining – their sophomore album, “For A Moment, I Was Lost.” After being dropped by their record label RCA and losing their drummer Felix Archer, the record was composed during a time when it was unclear whether there would still be an Amber Run in 2017. “We were lost,” front man Joe Keogh confessed, the album title clearly reflecting the state in which the band found themselves. It’s unsurprising therefore that dark themes permeate the record; depression, failure and self-loathing to name but a few. The album is masterfully crafted, combining all the best elements of their debut record 5am and building on them to create something gloriously atmospheric, without slacking lyrically. At times they’re mellow and muted (Haze, Machine), at others they’re energetic and powerful (No Answers, Perfect), but there’s not a moment where they aren’t good.

Insomniac opens the record, hurried and fast-paced with smashing keys and crashing drums. It’s a decent opener that hints at what’s to come –  a more mature and dynamic album than it’s predecessor. Musically, the sound is more alt-rock than alt-indie like we heard on 5am, something that feels right for the band at the present moment. Another change on this record might be the strength in the lyrics. One of the criticisms the now quartet got for their debut was that the lyrics were lacking, on this LP they’re clever, honest and hard-hitting. The second track on the album, No Answers, is a good example of this. “And I can forgive you / But I can’t forget you / Because the things you said are etched inside my brain” and “I’ll be the shadow that you see at night / That shred of doubt in the back of your mind” are two of the most potent lines on the track and Keogh’s powerful vocals on the number deliver them perfectly.

One thing that has always made Amber Run stand-out from their contemporaries is their ability to incorporate beautiful harmonies into their indie/alt-rock tracks. Fickle Game showcases this while the blunt, honest lyrics (“I wanna be older, I wanna be stronger / I don’t wanna fall at the start”) reveal their growth. It begins with some simple piano chords before harmonies, percussion, guitar and bass turn it into something greater. However, it’s Haze that brings us the closest to the stunning harmonies of I Found from their debut 5am (if you haven’t heard the latter, this performance  with the London Contemporary Voices choir is worth checking out).  At just under 2 minutes, Haze is a beautiful break that lies in the middle of the record. It’s a glorious haze (sorry, not sorry) of harmony that is a perfect accompaniment to the despairing lyrics. Described by the band themselves as “a plea for someone or something to come along and get you back on your feet,” this acapella track is sure to be simply stunning live.

Things stay muted on the following track, White Lie, a song that seems to describe the struggle of dealing with depression. There’s something cathartic about the chorus as Keogh sings out “I am a failure, I am a disaster, and I don’t want to be anything else / I am a loner, I am a loser, I don’t want to be anything else..” It’s one of the simpler tracks on the album, reminiscent of the title track of 5am, but it’s not at a loss for it. The pace picks up again on Perfect, an anthem for the angry and frustrated. “Karma, karma, please bear what I am owed,” Keogh yells out over crashing guitars, frantic guitar riffs and deep bass lines. If the line is inspired by the band not reaching the heights they were promised, I really hope karma pulls it out of the bag and they get the recognition they deserve this time around.

Dark Bloom is, as indicated by it’s title, one of the darkest moments on the LP. Keogh’s patient and steady vocals are contrasted with fast-paced drumming, the repetition of “Oh I worshiped you” finally getting a cathartic release on the last chorus as our lead singer hollers out “now I am tortured by you” accompanied by frantic drumming and squelching guitars. Meanwhile, Machine is the most delicate, touching moment on the album. It’s slow and soft – self-doubt writing a love letter. Keogh’s vulnerable vocals are perfection here, especially on “But do you love me? Do you love me?”  It’s one of my favourite tracks on the record.

Despite the subject matter of the closing track Wastelands (a break-up), it’s a hopeful end to the LP. It’s not without sadness, (“We started as a fever / we turned into an ache that never goes” and “It happened piece by piece / It happened just a little at a time / And then the bruises started showing” are particularly cutting) but the anger and accusations are gone. Instead, the band unite here in gorgeous harmony to sing “And I know you’ll fall in love again / When you do, I hope you’ll find somebody / Who you can love like I love you.” It’s a stunning closing number that combines all of Amber Run’s best qualities – haunting harmonies, vulnerable vocal moments and develops into a powerful, all-encompassing musical experience with crashing drums, smashing keys, glorious guitar riffs and the perfect climax. If I’ve a criticism for the record, it’s missing the vibrant, frantically happy tunes we got on 5am (Spark, Heaven) but overall, “For A Moment, I Was Lost” is a much more mature and cohesive piece than its predecessor and delivers a record that is sure to delight both critics and fans alike.

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