01. Describing themselves as ‘mythical folk’, there’s more than a little modernity to Dublin duo Dowth.
02. This comes as no surprise to eagle-eared listeners: producer Tim Ording is better known as Exile Eye, one-half of trad-inflected hip-hop duo Melodica Deathship, while fiddler John Kelleher makes noise in outfits like Rats’ Blood, Burnchurch and GRIT.
03. Streaming above is their self-titled EP, released last November on digital download via Bandcamp and 12″ vinyl.
Thoughts: Their blurbs and self-descriptions deal in brevity, boiling their sound down to one word: ‘epics’. It’s hard to argue with that assessment – there’s ambition aplenty evident throughout these songs.
01. Over gentle waves of textures and reverberations comes the voice of singer/composer and visual artist Brigid Mae Power.
02. Having existed on the fringes of Irish folk for a number of years, she cut her teeth on her first full-length, I Told You The Truth, recorded in St. Nicholas’ Church in Galway. Leaving Ireland and heading to Oregon to record with American folk musician Peter Broderick in his studio proved to be a turning point.
03. Streaming above is the video for single I Left Myself For a While, from her self-titled “proper” debut record, available via Tompkins’ Square Records. Early solo work also available on her Bandcamp.
04. Headlining Quarter Block Party festival, on the weekend February 3rd-5th in Cork City Centre. More info here.
Thoughts: Some lovely moments amid the melancholy, resonating with subtle drone, and the atmosphere of the studio.
This year has been the strongest in recent memory for Irish music, managing so despite the dissolutions of a great many leading outfits in the community in times of yore, among them this year Fight Like Apes, Enemies and Funeral Suits.
In the eight months your writer has been doing daily explainers on Irish independent music, there’s never been a morning where we’ve been without content, a story to tell, something that’s exciting to put in post and press ‘publish’ on.
What a lot of us figured would be a passing golden era a few years back has become the foundation for something far more sustained – without so much as a look from daytime radio or television, and with minimal coverage from our country’s mainstream media (all this despite good people in each, fighting the good fight, might I add).
Ireland’s music scene is easily the equal of any other offering, anywhere in the world, and arguably, pound-for-pound, the best in terms of quality of releases.
With that being said, let’s dig in to the list.
The divisively-named Top Ten Irish Records of 2016 does come with a caveat, though – joint winners (both ranked #1, with the #2 spot vacated, for the pedants among you).
01. Malojian is the brainchild of Belfast man Stevie Scullion, aided on occasion by collaborators Mike Mormecha and Joe McGurgan.
02. New album This Is Nowhere finds Scullion ruminating on middle-life, from parenthood, to marriage to grief, and was overseen by none other than Steve Albini, he of Big Black/Shellac, and the DIY recording gatekeeper behind some of Nirvana, the Breeders, and the Pixies’ finest work.
03. Streaming above is the video for I’ll Be Alright, taken from the record. Video directed by Colm Laverty.
04. Catch him on the road at Whelan’s in Dublin on the 26th, DeBarra’s in Clonakilty on the 27th, Coughlan’s in Cork on the 4th of December, and on the 9th at the Washerwoman in Ballina. Full tour details and more dates here.
Verdict: Scullion’s dichotomy of wringing sunny tunes from sober situations has seemingly met its match in Albini’s barebones recording work.
01. Indie/alt/folk duo We Cut Corners have been busy this year, putting the finishing touches on third album The Cadences of Others.
02. Hefty shoes to fill: previous long-players Today I Realised I Could Go Home Backwards and Think Nothing were both Choice Prize nominees.
03. Streaming above is the video for Of Whatever, directed by Jon Hozier-Byrne. Evoking the sense of panic that 2016 has neatly been enveloped by, it features model Megan O’Malley sleeping through life/drowning in a shallow bed. Fun for the whole family.
04. Catch them tomorrow night in the Roisín Dubh in Galway, and on Saturday night in the Button Factory in Dubland.
Verdict: A lush, densely-arranged take on the band at their more usually considered bodes for a big-sounding LP.
01. Folk-laden alternative drawn from personal experience is the order of the day for Dublin singer-songwriter Ailbhe Reddy.
02. Getting a start in 2014, she first drew attention from a wider audience after her tune Cover Me appeared across radio, while first single Flesh and Blood garnered good reviews and song-of-the-day features across the UK and Irish blogosphere.
03. Debut E.P. Hollowed Out Sea released this year, with production from Sacred Animals‘ Darragh Nolan. Streaming above is the video single Distrust.
04. Reddy is among the artists in the running for the fan vote to co-headline Other Voices and appear on the RTÉ TV show of the same name, alongside Jafaris, Meltybrains?, BARQ and Basciville. Vote here.
Verdict: Reddy clearly has the knack for big songwriting, but it’s tempered with a certain elegance that makes it all the more intriguing.
01. The return of Waterford singer/composer Katie Sullivan, a.k.a. Katie Kim, has been two years in the making, and comes four years after previous full-length Cover and Flood.
02. Debuting in 2008 with full-length Twelve, recorded after a virus wiped fifty existing finished songs from Sullivan’s PC, she quickly made a name for sparse, lo-fi alt-tinged folk in PJ Harvey vein. 2012’s Cover and Flood continued to flesh out her vision.
03. Streaming above is Sullivan’s newly-released long-player SALT. Available now on vinyl from independent record retailers around the country, and digitally via Bandcamp and Spotify.
04. Having launched the record at The Unitarian in Dublin a few days ago, upcoming launch dates remain on October 31st at The Loft in Reyjavik (for our Iceland-based readers), and December 3rd at St. Patrick’s Gateway in Waterford.
Verdict: The realisation of the sound and vision that’s undoubtedly been brewing in Sullivan’s work over all this time. A haunting, reverb-laden missive.
The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock – Folk group reprise and release large-scale pieces
What you may need to know…
01. Marrying noises from the Irish folk canon with experimental rock sounds, The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock take their name from a poem about a haunted canal lock.
02. They’ve released two full-lengths to date: an eponymous self-titled album in 2008, and The Brutal Here and Now, in 2012, via Japanese label Transduction Records.
03. Streaming above is the video for the first movement of recently-toured set Lockout. A large-scale piece, requiring a guitar orchestra, and based on the 1913 strike and lockout, Lockout will be reprised with a performance at the Cork Opera House on October 30th, as part of the Green Room stage.
04. Follow-up piece The Bullet in the Brick, marking the hundredth anniversary of the Rising as it draws to a close, is released on 12″ on November 25th. Preorders available now. They’ll also be performing at the No Idle Day weekender in Dublin next week.
VERDICT: Expanding their sonics to accomodate the weight and expectation of their subject matter and its retelling, The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock have risen to the challenge of history in fine fashion.
Dr. Strangely Strange – the return of legendary folk freaks
What you may need to know…
01. Started in 1967, folk experimentalists Dr. Strangely Strange were among the tenants of legendary Dublin rock lodgings The Orphanage, the same circle of people that produced Phil Lynott and Gary Moore among others.
02. Signing with Joe Boyd, producer/manager for the Incredible String Band, the band released debut LP Kip of the Serenes via Island Records in 1969, and the following year, recruited Moore for follow-up record Heavy Petting. The band disbanded in 1971 after a European tour, and have since reunited on a number of occasions inbetween other work in the arts, including for third LP Alternative Medicine in 1997.
03. Streaming above is one of the band’s calling cards, Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal, from the band’s first full-length.
04. The band plays its first gig in Cork city in over four decades this Sunday at the Kino, as part of IndieCork festival. Tickets €12, including a screening of a short documentary on the band filmed in 2007 before the performance.
VERDICT: One of the bands that helped set the scene for all manner of alternative music and experimentation in this country.