2016 has has been a pivotal year for Irish music.
‘sheet music editor Mike McGrath Bryan writes:
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).
It’s been that good of a year. Enjoy.
The top 10 Irish-made records of 2016
#10. Same D4ence – Exclamation Marks! (The Unscene)
When you’re under the wing of one of the country’s furthest-out musical savants in Naive Ted, and your new E.P. features guest appearances from members of Lynched, you know you might be on to something.
But strip that heft away and Limerick hip-hop trio Same D4ence more than deliver on their own merits. This much is evident in the first venue of A Beauty Named Shannon, wrought from a deeply-ingrained pain and grief in dealing with the city’s suicide crisis, and is absolutely driven home by a fevered stream-of-consciousness address of same.
But rather than dealing in morbidity, Exclamation Marks! is the sound of three young people in Size, Hazey Haze and MCB reasoning and dealing with the world, and it’s vital we listen.
#9. Malthusian – Below the Hengiform (Invictus)
At the point of convergence of death-metal heft, black-metal velocity and doom’s thoughtfulness and atmosphere stand Dubliners Malthusian. Below the Hengiform, over its twenty-seven minutes, is a beast of many heads, delivering heaviness on top of intricacy on top of dissonance, utilising each to full effect and in doing so, alternating wildly between impactful crawls and outright blasts. It will of course take multiple listens for the uninitiated, but it’s more than a worthwhile journey.
(N.B. Physically released via Invictus Productions in 2016 – digital release in 2015 – remaining included for the moment via this technicality – discussion in the comments)
#8. Magic Pockets – Volcano of the Bleeding Skies (Penske Recordings)
No Spill Blood synth-man Ruadhán O’Meara has been functioning solo as Magic Pockets for a while now, and debut long-player Volcano of the Bleeding Skies sees O’Meara expand on his role amid his other band’s spiky, punk chaos, spreading his neon-lined wings and flying headlong into the infinitely-scrolling grid. It’s not entirely retro-futurist funtimes, however – some serious grooves lie underneath the pads and swells, as best exhibited in Darkest Place, while the title track makes for some seriously dreamy drone at its outset. An excellent adventure.
#7. Enemies – Valuables
Enemies’ third and final long-player, inspired by their time on American tour and the changes that underwent their relationships as a result, acts as the logical conclusion to their creative trajectory. Completing the transition from math-rock tropicalia to an intricate, musicianly take on pop, Enemies have created some genuinely wonderful sounds this time around, from the non-verbal calls of itsallwaves, to Play Fire‘s twists and turns, but in the gentle layerings of Glow, featuring the voice of Louise Gaffney, one is caught between mourning the loss of another great Irish band and the realisation that this is a most perfect departure point. It’s the sum of its parts, the conclusion of over a decade’s worth of life experience, and it makes for a fitting farewell for the Wicklow outfit.
#6. Overhead the Albatross – Learning to Growl (self-release)
An album literally years in the making, Dublin post-rock outfit Overhead the Albatross were right to sit and wait for the right time to unleash Learning to Growl, months after teasing its scope with single Big River Man. It’s a sprawling affair, indulging fully in the genre’s traditional atmospherics without reverting to type, while keeping focus on the band’s arrangements, paying particular attention to some delicate riffing (see: Telekinetic Forest Guard) amid all the strings and extra-curricular instrumentation. A wonderful long-player that is hopefully only the beginning for this long-standing group.
#5. Ilenkus – Hunger (FEAST, et al.)
Galwegian metal/mathcore collective Ilenkus have long erred into the progressive, with second album The Crossing in particular going on a journey across five longer tracks. Imagine the surprise, then, for their follow-up seeing them pare back the scale of their compositions and focus on sheer aggression across a four-track offering that falls under fifteen minutes in total. Hunger is a blinding headache of a record, from Hunny Bunny‘s white-hot rage, to the slow boil of Pretty Secret. None of the virtuosity is lost, and what’s lost seemingly in scope is made up for in atmospherics during breaks in the onslaught throughout. Devastating.
#4. Robocobra Quartet – Music for All Occasions (self-released)
A quartet that in reality has as many members as can show up on gig night, the Belfast outfit are a supremely dour and downcast proposition, in the best possible way, throwing jazz, post-hardcore and spoken word at each other in angered fashion, and Music for All Occasions sets the tone for future activity nicely, a sparse, barebones affair that takes as much effort in quiet moments as it does in drumming vocalist Chris Ryan’s every spat-out syllable. Tracks Correct and Album of the Year have taken the most critical attention, attempting to unpack Ryan’s verbiage, but it’s in softly impatient moments like You’ll Shrug and Nice Life that the bones of the record are felt. Long in the face and dense of musical composition, Music for All Occasions is a dark horse among a vibrant line-up of Irish releases.
#3. Windings – Be Honest and Fear Not (Out on a Limb)
Steve Ryan and crew are no strangers to addressing uncomfortable truths in their music, and Be Honest and Fear Not sees them tackle the world around them as middle age approaches and perspective unfurls itself further. Album highlight You’re Dead sums it up bravely, a snaking, quietly menacing thing that tugs on one’s primary-school consciousness (“anyone can do what you do/like, who on Earth is gonna tell on you?”), but the whole record, put down live and in minimal takes, deals with everything from disappointment, to the passing of cultural landmarks, to the love and the little cracks of light it offers amid the grey. A wonderful, human record.
Joint #1. The Altered Hours – In Heat/Not Sorry (Art for Blind/Penske Recordings)
From their beginnings as a roughshod folk collective in Cork City, the Altered Hours have been chameleonic over the years, playing and experimenting with genre classification and tropes. Over the course of a clutch of EPs and singles, the band have become more than the sum of their parts, and no better evidence exists of this than debut album In Heat/Not Sorry. Blurring the boundaries between shoegaze, post-punk, psychedelia and garage-rock, the five-piece have unleashed a carefully-considered, yet inspired full-length that stands out as the best all-round Irish rock (if such a glib term really applies here) record of the year.
Joint #1. Rusangano Family – Let the Dead Bury The Dead (self-release)
The brainchild of beatmaker mynameisj0hn and MCs Murli and GodKnows, Rusangano Family are more than a critically-acclaimed Irish act that’s threatening to go mainstream. They represent a moment in Irish culture, a turning point, a look at the ever-changing Irish identity, the meeting point of tradition and progress, the emerging Irish multiculture. Equal parts personal earnestness on the immigrant experience in Ireland and social commentary from the perspective of someone raised latterly in the culture, Let the Dead Bury the Dead is, in their words, “an objective album”. But as important as the weight it carries, the tunes it bears across its near-40-minute runtime run the gamut, from the mid-paced stepping of Kierkegaard to the flat-out, shirt-waving banger that is Soul Food, there’s not a single doubt of the latter either. A momentous accomplishment.
Axecatcher – Common Blood
Bailer – Shaped by the Landscape
Beithíoch – Ghosts of a World Long Forgotten
Coscradh – Demo MMXVI
Harvester – Harmonic Ruptures
Partholón – Follow Me Through Body
Slomatics – Future Echo Returns
Agro Phobia – FIRST CASSETTE
Anna’s Anchor – Nautical Miles
Dott – Beverly Baldwin
Hope is Noise – Demons
Land Lovers – The Rooks Have Returned
Pleasure Beach – Dreamer to the Dawn
The Shaker Hymn – Do You Think You’re Clever?
Starters – A Picture Fading
Therapy? – Disquiet
Brotherlode – Asian Cuisine
Cian Nugent – Night Fiction
Ealadha – Limit of Our Sight
Fixity – The Things in the Room
Gummidge – Heartbreakers
Katie Kim – Salt
Megacone – Absolute Magnitude
Sand – A Sleeper, Just Awake
September Girls – Age of Indignation
Tuath – Existence is Futile
Please feel free to add your own choices below.
Thank to all the artists.