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.