Ten from the ’10s (So Far)

Adding yet another voice to the shouting match over great Irish music, Mike McGrath-Bryan takes a stab at updating the “Irish rock” canon.

The creation of lists, listicles and the like are, at the best of times, half the writer’s personal preference, half a tiresome editorial box-ticking exercise. The October 1st edition of the Sunday Times bore this out to be true, as a much-feted “101 Irish Albums We Love” list, compiled by Something Happens vocalist & Newstalk man Tom Dunne, ripped the bandage away from the unending arguments over objective stances on a subjective medium. Was ‘Astral Weeks’ really that good? Was the chase for the next U2 really the best thing for Irish music? Why aren’t Scary Éire or Primordial ever on these all-timer lists?

The big takeaway from this latest bout of squabbling, however, was a note of disappointment for readers under thirty: one of the country’s highest-profile disc-jocks and champions of music programming had seemingly included one (1) single independently-released album from this decade on an otherwise comprehensive list. Amid a current golden age in independently-released music in Ireland, no less.

While the debate around the issue has cooled down to the usual degree of infighting among Irish music pedants, your writer would be remiss if he didn’t create some degree of companion piece to balance the conversation. And here it is: a list, though by no means definitive, ten Irish records from this decade you should be adding to your collection. The rules are simple: albums released since 2010, open genre policy, no big-name reunions, no major-label releases. Enjoy.

ADEBISI SHANK – This Is The Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank (2011, Richter Collective)

A day-zero event in the current development of independent music in Ireland, the Wexford trio’s second long-player marked their transition from fret-burning, pedal-stacking math-rock noisemakers to something more. Post-rock and its associated sub-genres set about rearranging the deckchairs and do something new with an established setup. With the beep-boop, oddly-metered intro to opener ‘International Dreambeat’, the intention was apparent: clear the decks and make way for a retro-futuristic anime parade. The following forty minutes are unlike anything this country has produced, before or since, a joyous race through thumping, squalling sounds and lush textures.

AND SO I WATCH YOU FROM AFAR – Gangs (2012, Richter Collective)

North Shore four-piece And So I Watch You From Afar had also been grafting for years on sweetly melodic, yet no-less deft tunes that packed the detail of math-rock, the dynamic & breathing space of post-rock, and the velocity of metal into its ebbs and flows. A self-titled debut LP saw the band begin to make themselves a space; ‘Gangs” threw explosives in and cleared their path. ‘Search:Party:Animal’ is a shot of concentrated adrenaline, ‘…Samara to Belfast’ oozes tension, while single ‘7 Billion People All Alive at Once’ takes a pretty, building piece of post-rock and detonates it into a grin-inducing, babble-along waltz. A special record from a band in a special place.

LAURA SHEERAN – What the World Knows (2012, self-release)

While Ireland has had a long and proud tradition in the fields of improvisation and the avant-garde, there are very few artists that have brought together the sheer love of the process with a singular, driven vision for every aspect of creation quite like Galwegian Laura Sheeran. What the World Knows provided our first longform glimpse of Sheeran’s internal creative world, stark and melancholic, playing with arrangement and form, but always making her strong and steady voice central to its peaks and valleys, as best demonstrated on ‘Hurricane’.

BANTUM – Legion (2013, ElevenEleven)

Dublin-resident Corkman Ruairí Lynch was a favourite among bloggers earlier in the decade, presenting an eclectic, yet accessible take on a wide swathe of electronica. Debut long-player ‘Legion’ sanded all the polish off, leaving only evidence of the swelling, full heart of a creator and the friendships behind the collaborations thereon. Singles ‘Oh My Days’ and ‘Legion’ heave with a wistful, yet ultimately upbeat take on internal monologues; the former nesting Eimear O’Donovan’s vocals amid layers of reverb and delay, the latter providing an eighties-indie feel of earnestness to warm, yet haunting electronic pop.

LYNCHED – Cold Old Fire (2014, self-release)

Amid the depths of austerity, and the increasingly-apparent nature of its legacy, tone-deaf cries from mainstream music press bemoaned the lack of protest music as with previous generations before moving along to the next shiny thing. If they’d bothered looking around, they would have found the band currently known as Lankum, recasting lost folk gems from around the world for the modern condition, and co-penning the definitive modern recession song in the album’s title track. In the process, the Dublin four-piece became arguably the custodians of the Irish folk tradition, a contrast from the stuffy gatekeeping of conservative Ireland.

ILENKUS – The Crossing (2014, self-release)

With a keen ear for technicality and a feel for the weight of sludgy, metallic tones, Galwegian five-piece Ilenkus have always brought to the forefront of their music something casual observers have wrongly remarked is missing from the genre: humanity. The band’s second full-length is a brave, honest work that sees the band confront internal and external issues, from the painful, cathartic and intricate title track, to the pointed sociopolitical barbs of ‘Over the Fire, Under the Smoke’ (sent viral that year for a one-take promo video that saw Chris Brennan perform his gutturally yowled vocals on a walk down Galway’s Shop Street).

NAIVE TED – The Inevitable Heel Turn (2015, self-release)

By day, mild-mannered social worker/music teacher Andy Connolly. By night, skratchador enmascarado Naive Ted. A longtime fixture on a small but dedicated Irish turntablism scene as one-man duo Deviant & Naive Ted, Limerick-based Connolly found himself in a wider, albeit cultish, spotlight via a series of chance encounters culminating in his work ending up as entrance music on Japanese national television, accompanying Wicklow pro-wrestling superstar Fergal Devitt and his villainous Bullet Club gang. The full-length that followed was positively bananas, as old-school skratchology met a truly eclectic range of samples before being thrown, full-force, at Steve Reich-esque experimentation and being thoroughly deconstructed accordingly.

SHARDBORNE – Living Bridges (2015, Out on a Limb)

Metal in Ireland has always been kept alive by community efforts, from gigs and labels to zines and blogs. No more loyal defenders of the cause exist than the brothers Culhane, two of a team of volunteers that Limerick’s Bad Reputation gigs and the Siege of Limerick all-dayers. It just so happens that they’re also half of progressive metal weapon-wielders Shardborne: technically-proficient, theory-literate musicians whose love of seventies prog seems them invoke the pioneer spirit of their genre forerunners in a completely different context.

KATIE KIM – Salt (2016, Art for Blind)

Created throughout 2014 and produced by Percolator/Guerrilla Sounds man John Murphy, Salt saw Waterford’s Katie Kim place her quietly-powerful voice on a larger, yet more deeply personal creative stage from the go, where sparse, echoing production is offset by celestial synth in ‘Ghosts’, or set against resonant pianos amid the pain and rumination of ‘Body Break’. It’s a theme that runs throughout, playing on a feeling of foreboding and the natural urge for introspection from which the listener emerges different, more in tune, best summed up as the layers of sounds continue to amass as album standout ‘Life or Living’ wends its way around itself.

RUSANGANO FAMILY – Let The Dead Bury The Dead (2016, self-release)

The trio of GodKnows, Murli and mynameisj0hn had been collaborating together in different configurations in the years prior to naming John and Godknows’ joint album ‘Rusangano/Family’, a bilingual take on the ties that bind Irish people to the wider world, and a wave of young new Irish to the culture they have grown up and become themselves in. A fitting banner, then, to take the lead into a new generation of homegrown, multicultural music with ‘Let the Dead Bury the Dead’, riffing on cultural change, the weight of history, and the challenges of identity. ‘Soul Food’ is a shirt-waving banger of a tune, while ‘Lights On’ is nothing short of a love letter to Limerick city. Winner of last year’s Choice Award for a reason.

Women in Cork Music: We Built This City

Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with M.SEA, Nicole Maguire and record auteuse Eilís Dillon about the importance of women to the Cork music scene.

It’s difficult to ascertain in a short, convenient space the precise historical importance of women to Leeside music. All one need do is look at the scene’s history. Elvera Butler, Downtown Kampus auteur and Reekus Records head, was among the first of Cork’s contemporary scene to oversee a release, the now-sought after Kaught at the Kampus. Cellist Úna Ní Chaninn was undoubtedly the missing piece in post-punk lads Five Go Down to the Sea’s mad sonic puzzle. Angela Dorgan, formerly of the Triskel Arts Centre and the late Cork Music Co-Op, is now the head of First Music Contact in Dublin, overseeing Hard Working Class Heroes fest and providing a lifeline to artists looking to get started in a difficult industry.

The examples lead all the way out to today, where Aisling O’Riordan is one of the city’s busiest promoters and production managers, musician and promoter Edel Curtin helms the award-winning Coughlan’s venue and Leah Hearne of Cork County Council’s Arts Office has been instrumental in affecting change in the county’s cultural scene. To even boil it down to a few examples is difficult, but such is the importance of women to the city’s music community. Women are an important and strong part of the Cork music scene”, says Eilís Dillon, co-proprietress of Records and Relics, one of a new crop of Leeside vinyl outposts, “they’re taking on leading roles in all aspects of the scene not just as musicians but also as promoters, producers, writers and bookers.”

Cork’s music scene by its nature is close-knit, and mutual support abounds for people pursuing their passions in the face of various obstacles, and the same holds true among women in Leeside music and arts. “I see more and more women on the scene all the time. The number has definitely gone up in acoustic music in the near-decade I have lived in Cork. It’s amazing, exciting and I love the feeling of possibilities and collaborations.”, says Mary Claire Woolley, a.k.a. freak-folk singer M.Sea. Country/folk singer Nicole Maguire echoes these sentiments. “There’s more and more women in the industry, currently, some amazing female talent here, and I’m proud to be called a Cork musician.”

Maguire puts this phenomenon down to the city’s relative indepedence from the auspices of traditional music industry forces. “Because there’s a lack of labels and big-company support in the Irish scene, a lot of the Cork just have balls, they get out there and do what a record label and promoter would traditionally have done. It hasn’t stopped people, and that’s what shines through.” Dillon is quick to reflect the general camaraderie among female creatives summarising their strength in the Cork scene. “There are so many amazing Cork musicians out there to choose from, the ones I know and really love, are the ones who are unapologetically themselves, they are the real role models and heroes for younger generations.”

Elaine Howley (Altered Hours/Crevice/Mourning Veils)
Cork psych-rock quintet The Altered Hours’ calling card is that they “exist in a swirl of the hypnotic”, and it is arguably around co-lead singer Elaine Howley that this sound and fury revolves. A beguiling onstage presence, Howley’s voice, both alone and in tandem with guitarist Cathal MacGabhann, is possessed of almost otherworldly strength and inspiration. Most importantly, it’s backed by a complete fearlessness about its uses across various collaborative projects.

Senita Appiakorang (Shookrah, Lakerama)
Absolutely astounding on-stage, Senita Appiakorang is the voice of Leeside neo-soul collective Shookrah, a preternaturally powerful instrument that carries both the weight of both the band’s more introspective moments and the bombast of its celebratory outbursts, as seen best in the band’s single Woman. Also collaborates with Irish producer Graeme S. as Lakerama, and has guested with the likes of Daithí and Le Galaxie in the recent past.

Rachel “Pixie” Koeman (Young Wonder)
From a diminutive frame emerges the voice that has placed Cork Scandi-pop collective Young Wonder at the forefront of independent Irish music. Accentuated by a theatrical flair in evidence throughout the project’s live outings and jaw-dropping promo videos, Koeman’s tones and lyrical prowess are undoubtedly at the centre of the band’s multimedia experience. It’s done well by them so far – while they’ve been quiet as of late, the band was shortlisted last year for a Choice award.

Roslyn Steer (solo, Mourning Veils, KantCope Records)
To see Roslyn Steer on stage solo is to witness someone transcending herself, becoming lost in the moment and completely immersing herself in her music. Melodic as a songbird, Steer’s voice emerges almost upwards from the noise created by a guitar and barebones effects setup, and creates a haunting dichotomy of sounds in the process, serenely telling some heavy stories. Involvement in all-female trio Mourning Veils aside, Steer is also a prominent figure in Cork independent music’s infrastructure, founding and running cassette label KantCope.

Clare Sands (The Clare Sands Trio)
Raised amid music was Clare Sands, singer, songwriter, and leader of the eponymously-titled Clare Sands Trio. Falling between two pews, Sands specialises in the folkier end of the blues, having been introduced to the genre as a teenager by her mother, although her musical experience goes back to learning traditional Irish fiddle from the age of four. Having done time gigging around New York, she returned to Cork to finish her music degree and begin her solo/bandleader ventures, finally releasing her debut album, Join Me at the Table, this month.

Mary Claire Woolley (M.Sea)
Sometimes, you simply don’t know what’s going to be handed to you. Despite playing guitar from childhood, Mary Claire Woolley hadn’t performed publicly until the last few years owing to various factors. It took a serious hand injury to put her relationship with music and its importance to her in perspective, but she hasn’t looked back since, assuming the mantle M.Sea, and specialising in a bluesy strain of freak-folk. Most recently, she’s launched in E.P., and spoken/performed at TEDx CorkSalon’s #CorkLovesMusic event.

LYRA
Beginning her musical explorations at the tender age of six thanks to some sisterly encouragement, Co. Cork singer LYRA now finds herself at the start of something new, having played her debut Irish shows under the pseudonym at the week of writing. Now based in London, she’s released her debut E.P. W.I.L.D., and working with local management folks Tileyard, has just begun to make her mark with pop music that’s well-honed in the art of dynamics, alternating from big Florence-esque hooks to varying degrees of layered ambience.

Áine Duffy
Coming in for praise from Tony Clayton-Lea and Tony Fenton alike, Áine Duffy has been a presence in Cork venues for the past few years after touring the world and acquiring an accomplished session CV, finding her stride most recently in a new musical partnership with local musical wunderkind The Hypnotyst. Combining their mutual musical disciplines with a mutual love of all things rave, the duo have happened across an extroverted electronic rock sound that carries a distinct accessibility.

Nicole Maguire
Leading with finely honed country-pop, perfected on excursion to Nashville, Nicole Maguire has worked hard to work with the best, among them producer Mitchell Froom (Pearl Jam, Ron Sexsmith). Her apprenticeship in Music City served her well upon her Leeside return, and she’s since shared stages with the likes of Paul Brady, Donovan, and Damien Dempsey. She returned to studio in 2015, and second full-length Wishing Well released earlier this year.

Sara “Bear” Ryan
Making major inroads in the local singer-songwriter scene in the last year or so is Sara “Bear” Ryan, a young Kildarewoman living in the city. A student of the Vocal Performance degree in the Cork School of Music, she’s notched up support slots for Mick Flannery, John Spillane and others in the Irish acoustic oeuvre, releasing debut single Belle in August of this year, replete with a period-piece video shot in Temple Bar and the Wicklow Mountains.

Vicky Langan (Wölflinge)
Referred to as the “queen bee of Irish noise” Vicky Langan is a prolifically-active figure in the Irish avant-garde, working across sound-art, experimental film and installation. Performing solo as Wölflinge, Langan cuts an intense figure, projecting herself and the vulnerability of creativity via an assortment of live and synthesised sounds. A long-running audiovisual partnership with director Max Le Cain has resulted in a residency in the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris, next year.

Siobhán Brosnan (Shiv)
One of the central pillars of electronic music in Cork, Siobhán Brosnan, a.k.a Shiv is a DJ, promoter, and blogger, working primarily with London-based techno blog Skirmish, and as part of Cork hip-hop auteurs Cuttin’ Heads Collective. Currently co-promoting techno nights at the AMP Venue, the Skirmish crew have most recently joined counter-culture newspaper Rabble as resident music experts, and curate live mixes from a revolving door of Irish electronic artists on Cork community station Room101.

Ellen King (Elll)
Founder of GASH Collective, a group dedicated to the promotion of women in experimental electronics, Elll has been a constant in Cork’s microcosm of drone, noise and minimal techno, as a producer, DJ and promoter. This winter sees the long-awaited release of debut E.P. Romance on Sligo-based label and distro Art for Blind Records.