January 2021 | 5 Essential New Irish Releases

by 17:07


Rarely has a year been greeted with as much expectation as 2021. 

A fresh start, a new chapter, and hopefully a return to what binds us together: live music. As political leaders race to get the new Covid-19 vaccine into the world, the stalwarts of music scene's across the globe continue to create behind the scenes. Even in the face of uncertainty, our desire to create remains. 

As Robin Williams reminded us in the iconic Dead Poets Society; we read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And while medicine, law, business and engineering are all noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life, poetry, beauty, romance, love...these are what we stay alive for. 

With this in mind, we implore you to switch off your television, ignore the news, and immerse yourself in these five new essential releases instead. 

Anna's Anchor - Derelict

Derelict see's Limerick's golden child Marty Ryan (better known as Anna's Anchor), push a Mountain Goats sized boulder up the bastard hillside that was 2020. Singing with all the pain and intensity of the aforementioned John Darnielle, Ryan condemns his dreams to the wind before reminding himself that at least we survived. The strings swell like the sea off Ireland's south-west coast, cathartic and real. A wonderful taster for new album 'A Glorious Ruction', due April 8th.

smallmint - New Year 

Glacial falsetto and stirring imagery unite like hands clasped tight on smallmint's debut single New Year. The band formerly known as Brash Isaac have chosen a delicate introduction for their new baby, like a baby bird preparing to jump from it's nest. For band leader Andrew Cameron, it's a welcome return to one of Northern Ireland's most prolific songwriters, occupying a heart shaped hole between Pinegrove and Justin Vernon. There will undoubtedly be rockier numbers hidden up the band's sleeve, but like the new year itself, smallmint will take their time before revealing their hand. 

Michael Mormecha - Love Like Mariana

As Northern Ireland's chief purveyor of lofi-pop, Michael Mormecha spent his lockdown just as you had hoped he would; encased in the amber of his home studio, crafting new record See Sea. On Love Like Mariana, Mormecha's love stretches' as deep as an oceanic trench, reaching out for the girl with twigs in her hair, causing tsunami's in his bloodstream. He spits beat poetry over finger picked rhythms, like John Cooper Clarke with a fuzz pedal. Vital, invigorating listening. You can join his deep sea dive on Kickstarter, where he is raising funds to finish the album here.

Lucy Gaffney - Send Me Away

Lucy Gaffney's latest single was released in October 2020, so is it really a new release? Well, no, but for those unacquainted with the Belfast born songwriter's waltz-like dream pop, allow us to make the first introduction. Send Me Away is the soundtrack to a showreel that can only ever exist in your mind. You may have specially tailored it over the years, watched details blur into the summer haze, but it doesn't matter. You were there and this song was playing, and it was perfect.

Josh McClorey - Puffin' Clovers

Having taken some time to explore the open road with sadboi popstar in waiting JC Stewart, one time Strype Josh McClorey has now forged his own identity as a fully fledged frontman. Puffin' Clovers is the secret weapon in his new arsenal, a melodic slice of mature pop in the vein of 5 Seconds Of Summer's new sound. A hook heavy dance track, McClorey takes only rare glimpses at his electric guitar throughout, trusting his melodies to do the hard miles and unite festival crowds in the process. Let's hope we'll see him doing just that very soon.

Taylor Johnson

Joshua Burnside - Into The Depths Of Hell - Lyrical Analysis

by 11:50

Reassurances from a departed love, ancient Irish folk and unabashed anger at Satan himself combine at lightspeed on Joshua Burnside’s sophomore record ‘Into The Depths Of Hell’. Somewhere amidst the melting pot of sounds, Paul Simon-esque African groove can be found mingling with a post-punk atmosphere (And You Evade Him/Born In The Blood). In the darker corners his banjo from embryonic (but still brilliant) releases like Black Dog Sin is heard plucking away diligently, as if recovered from a time-capsule (Nothing For Ye). Elsewhere, metal strikes metal in a Belfast shipyard, while civil war breaks out in the background (I Saw The Night). 

Where his NI Music Prize winning debut Ephrata teased moments of greatness, Into The Depths Of Hell spells it out like fireworks on a pitch black night. It shakes, stumbles and mourns alongside the listener, demanding another spin on the record player. To celebrate this landmark record, Taylor Johnson takes a dive into the depths of Joshua Burnside’s brain and 10 times his lyrics hit different. 

1. “Nothing is bolder than the jump from the windowsill, into the depths of hell and into the clutches of the devil himself” - Under The Concrete 

The opening verses to the Latin shuffle of Under The Concrete see Joshua steal redemption from the jaws of exquisitely orchestrated despair, in roughly the time it takes to light a cigarette on a windswept evening. A dark awakening, it welcomes you into his world with a weary wink, before pulling himself back from the brink , “but nevermind that talk is a little premature, I have many sins worse to commit first.” Wonderful.

2. “I was a liar when I said I am not afraid, I am” - And You Evade Him/Born In The Blood

As unlikely a single as you’ll hear this year, even a song as artistic and soundbite heavy as And You Evade Him… doesn’t miss it’s opportunity to cut right to his subject’s very core. Surrounded by fear, the Comber-born troubadour refuses to shy away from his truest feelings, redefining his vulnerabilities as strengths. It also paints him as one of us. He is human and he needs to be loved, just like everybody else does...

3. “So if there's nowhere for our souls to go then I don't want to be so sober, so” - Whiskey Whiskey

A flight to London. Sickening turbulence. Life suspended somewhere between heaven and the Earth below. Whiskey Whiskey is Burnside’s memento mori, a look into the human mind, staring death in the face. Reason can’t save him now, nor the cabin crew giving nothing away as the aircraft shudders and shakes. One of this record’s most touching moments.

4. “Just to have you to myself again, I would've waged a war on everything” - War On Everything

Some grief is only comparable to the violent swell of the sea, and War On Everything captures that desolation in a single verse. To see his beloved again, he would wage war, nothing could stop him. The lyrics here tap into something primal, making love and despair seem human rather than, as so often in pop music, superheroic.

5.  “And Mr. Freud, reveals the void in our hearts, where we thought we knew the light from the dark, but there's only sex and murder in the back of our skulls” - Will You Go or Must I?

Austrian neurologist and weird-sex-guy Sigmund Freud proposed that humans have a life instinct and a death instinct. His theory was based on these drives (sex and aggression) dominating our lives. Here Burnside is toying with this concept of  nihilism over a ragtime melody, that wouldn’t sound out of place on Cat Steven’s 1970 classic Tea For The Tillerman. 

6. “You shall not take this land from me, for who am I, but where I am? And who I am, with therein, I'll be the night, I’ll be the night” - I Saw The Night

Buried beneath the blood and the borders, Burnside’s misanthropy is rationalised by his refusal to take sides. Peace will be his victory. Haunting electronica, accordion drones and vocoded vocals give a cabin fever closeness to the infinite night he sings about. 

7. “Until eventually all of our buried skeletons are gently uncovered by smiling Americans, and all is explained, how we came to such unfortunate endings” - Driving Alone In The City At Night

A conversation with a departed friend, Driving Along In The City At Night should sound a lot more tortured than it actually does. In the context of the song, whilst not exactly cheery, the thought of being discovered in the ground alongside a loved one feels like more of an escape for our author, than a definitive ending.

8. Well, I have nothing for ye my sweet darling, If I had enough money, I'd buy you a ring, for I'm worried someday, you'll run off with a doctor, cause I had nothing for ye, my sweet darling” - Nothing For Ye

Into The Depths... emotional climax, Nothing For Ye encapsulates all that is pure and beautiful about Joshua Burnside as a storyteller. All he can offer are his songs and his heart, will that be enough, my sweet darling? A song sounding like it was written on a battlefield years ago, with bombs and bullets flying above him. Close your eyes and you’re there.

9. “One cannot be here, whilst over there, so you must remain, my kind brother” - Driving Alone In The City At Night

Another heartbreaking lyric from Driving Alone In The City At Night, here Burnside’s attempt to reconcile loss takes a gentler tone. A devastating and comforting truth. Childlike, and yet somehow seismic in its simplicity. 

10. “My mother before she died, told me, son if you must be a singer, well you ought to run, down to the dole office, and sign on today, for that's where you'll be, collecting your pay.” - Nothing For Ye

Joshua Burnside’s song about being skint is priceless. Before work commenced on Into The Depths Of Hell, he could often be found nursing a Guinness at the American Bar in Belfast, listening in and occasionally taking part in the Irish-traditional jam sessions that take place behind closed doors. Musicians from across the city would meet to  play songs from yesteryear, historical songs about poets and Ireland, their dreams and their families. These traditions have undoubtedly  helped shape Burnside’s second record, the mark from these shared moments in every groove of the vinyl. Nothing For Ye is a song born from these times, made to be sung with arms around loved ones, late into a winter night, fire burning in the corner. 

Extra reading/Bonus points

“Well, I just can't find peace in my soul, no, I just can't find it” - The Only Thing I Fear

Apparently work commenced on non-album single The Only Thing I Fear when Burnside was just fifteen years old. How can someone so young, write words so sad? With streams just outside the one million mark at time of writing, it’s unfair to call The Only Thing I Fear a lost classic. It is, however,  a criminal omission from Into The Depths. Sparse, yet heavy. 

Huge, yet minimal. The end and the start of the world.

Taylor Johnson

Into The Depths Of Hell

I Saw The Night

Under The Concrete

AndYou Evade Him/Born In The Blood

Whiskey Whiskey

Driving Alone In The City At Night

Noa Mercier

Will You Go Or Must I?

War On Everything

Napoleans Nose

Nothing For Ye

joshua burnside | single review | war on everything

by 05:31

Unmistakably Burnside. Undeniably brilliant.

The calypso rhythms and tales from lands afar are buried like treasure, Joshua Burnside has left Ephrata and entered the depths of Hell. What does it sound like? A mesmeric darkness, shadowed by the Irish conflict and traditions 3000 miles closer to home than his debut NI Music Prize winning album.

New single War On Everything (released August 14th) pushes the drums to the front of the mix, marching Burnside towards some form of light amidst the maudlin-toned singles we've heard so far. The influence of Ohio elder-statesmen and Taylor Swift collaborators The National is obvious; everything from the swooning verse melody, to the Devendorf drum beat marking a continued growth from Ephrata's more pop-centric roots. We hear strings dancing in and out of time, militaristic in their desire to move the listener. Waves crash in the dark, as a lover reaches out for something, anything.

"She said I feel lonely when I'm with you, lonely when I'm with anyone, like those old ghosts you sing about, yeah, that's how I feel."

Much like The National, Burnside's rise from Belfast's underbelly to an audience of millions (online anyway) has been a steady one, quietly gathering fans the world over whilst refusing to compromise on his visions. It's an attitude his manager, friend and long-term confidant Lyndon Stephens undoubtedly nurtured before his tragic passing earlier this year.

It's worked Lyndon, but you never needed anyone to tell you that.

Taylor Johnson

Joshua Burnside's second album 'Into The Depths of Hell' is released September 4th.

Single Review | The Zang | Football Sundays

by 11:46

The world of former More Than Conquerors axe-swingers Kris Platt and Danny Ball have been perpetually in motion since their decision to leave the mosh pits behind in 2019.

Kris' hiatus to France was cut short when songwriting supremo Ciaran Lavery requested his services on lead guitar, and before long he was preoccupied with smashing his own Spotify algorithms in electro-indie project Blue Americans.  Entirely self-producing their new body of work soon sparked the creation of Oiltape Studios, Belfast's newest recording space and the chosen birthplace for indie-slackers The Zang's debut record, scheduled to drop later this year.

Dipped in a pool of Weller-esque guitar tones, The Zang! tackle issues of modern homophobia, sectarianism and life beyond the beautiful game in this, the first single taken from their as-yet-untitled debut. Arriving in an age of rising unemployment, economic uncertainty and Liverpool as the dominant footballing force in England, you'd be forgiven for falling into a sepia toned world after listening to this one. Platt's aversion to over-complication in the producer's chair serves the track well, bursting in just the right moments for a climactic gut punch.

Check out the music video below.

Taylor Johnson

A Hero's Death | Why Fontaines DC's Sophomore Album Could Be Their Magnum Opus

by 09:23

"Life ain't always empty" sings Grian Chatten over rattling guitars and a hypnotic drum groove. He means it too.

The title track to his band Fontaines DC's new album, A Hero's Death shakes it's head at a planet Earth designed to make you feel like shit. It's a call to arms against self-hatred, a self-proclaimed 'list of rules for the self', spat out in his trademark southern accent. Since Fontaines' ascension from The Liberties area of Dublin (an area known for it's rich culture and literary history) back in 2017, the young frontman has became a sort of older brother type figure for teenagers and 20-somethings across Europe. Somewhere amidst Fontaines' mammoth live sound and post-punk aggression, rests a poetic voice, a gentle soul embroiled in it all.

Fontaines DC stand for what is right and true. They seek to hold on to their past, reject modernity, and savour the smallest moments. Their debut Mercury Prize nominated record Dogrel was bold enough to bow out in a Dublin boozer during last 'orders, the drunken sway of Dublin City Sky recalling Shane McGowan at his most heartfelt and love-sick. 'To know you is to love you', Chatten sang as the rain battered against an ancient pub window.  Their childhoods were small, but Fontaines DC knew they were going to be big. On 'A Hero's Death'they are big, possibly the hottest band in Europe today no less.

As expectation grows for their sophomore album, released 31st July, we've broken down some key reasons to keep the faith alive, based on what we know so far.

1. It was recorded quickly.

Think of the Stone Roses. On top of the world in 1989, heralded (somewhat ironically) as the second coming  and the architects of Madchester. On their self-titled debut album, the Roses inspired a generation, crafting a sound as vibrant as the Jackson Pollock splashes they covered themselves and their artwork in. Taking five years to follow up that seminal album killed their momentum and opened the door for one of the bands they directly inspired, Oasis. The world moved on and for the Roses, the 90's were lost.

In the wake of Dogrel's  phenomenal success, Fontaines DC set up base in Los Angeles, finishing the record last October - just six months after their debut album's release. Judging by the two songs we've heard from the new record thus far, A Hero's Death will be a continuation of the heart, optimism and melody that made them special in the first place. In a recent interview with the BBC, Chatten reflected on their hasty recording process, "That's why I can proudly say about our second album: It's written by the same fucking people."

2. There'll be a Californian twist. 

Recording under the heat of the Californian sun can be a mammoth distraction, or open the door to a new facet of a band's music. For Fontaines, the Brian Wilson sound came as an unexpected, but welcome addition to the new record.

"We really got into harmonising when we were doing these long drives across America," says Chatten.

"We'd always tried to figure out exactly what the Beach Boys were doing on their tunes. We wanted to be able to sing so we didn't need instruments. Then, wherever we were, we could have a few drinks in the pub and just go for it."

On the dark and REM conduring new single I Don't Belong To Anyone, we hear the band come together for some 'oohs' and vocals layered in a new way. It gifts a ghostly flow to the music, as inviting as the waves he swims in in the new music video. A fascinating new addition to the DC canon.

"I think subconsciously we were reaching out to each other while we were practicing and writing little harmony parts in the back of the van," the singer says.

"It's an amazing feeling. It gives you a great sense of community - maybe because the singing culture we would have seen growing up, the Dubliner-style pub singing, was so familiar."

3. They've lost none of their grit.

That sweeping declaration at the heart of A Hero's Death, 'life ain't always empty', was inspired by the repetition of adverts found across every aspect of modern life. For every uplifting commandment Chatten throws into the ether, ('tell your mother that you love her, go out of your way for others') he revisits that opening lyric; but is he trying to convince himself, or stating fact?

On A Hero's Death, Fontaines will have lost none of their passion. Chatten all but affirmed this in a recent interview, "If we'd said everything that we had to say in one album, then we wouldn't have bothered making a second." 

4. It's authentic.

The band have avoided the pitfalls of exploiting their Irish roots for commercial gain, instead writing an album that takes place outside of their native land.

"I would have liked to have more about Dublin," he admits. "I love living in Dublin and I think Dublin is an incredibly inspiring place - but I don't have the licence to write about it, because I haven't really been there for nearly two years now.

"So I wrote about my own experiences, the things that happen in my imagination and vignettes of other people, with maybe more exacerbated situations than the ones I'm going through." 

"Ultimately," he says, “we wrote to tell ourselves we were still there, we’re still alive and we’re still individuals. "

Is it too real for ya? 


5. It's the right time.

Whilst many artists have postponed album campaigns and (understandably) withheld music for the foreseeable,  somehow you felt Fontaines DC would be the band to carry on. With the new record finished and awaiting release, it seems inevitable that some of the stresses and strains Chatten is channeling in his bid to follow up such a massive record as Dogrel, will ring true in the current world climate.

Those themes (that we've seen so far), include compassion, empathy and a certain amount of carpe diem.

"If you give ourselves to every breath, then we’re all in the running for a hero’s death.”

A Hero's Death is the most eagerly anticipated Irish album in years.  Rightfully so. 

Taylor Johnson

Track of the Week | Our Kyrpton Son | White Sun

by 10:43

The Maiden City may have a rich history of punk and anarchic tradition, but with acts such Reevah, Roe and Our Krypton Son balancing the books in 2020, the sound of modern day Derry is more rounded than it's ever been.

White Sun comes from Our Krypton Son's incoming 3rd record Modern Ruins, featuring broad brushstrokes from producer/conductor Ryan Vail. It makes for a beautifully textured record, as sweet acoustic swells merge with dark synths and electronics. A broodier piece than Vail's Sea Legs album with Ciaran Lavery,  White Sun loses known of Chris McConaghy's penchant for melancholic balladry. It marks an intriguing new chapter in the Our Krypton Son story. Designed for sunset drives through a Californian desert.

Taylor Johnson

Album Review | Bleeding Heart Pigeons | 'Stir'

by 08:04

Bleeding Heart Pigeons evoke the foreboding, twisted indie of Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo and the Bunnymen and Radiohead, on a record that delivers on the promise of their debut and intensifies the emotion.

In 2016, Bleeding Heart Pigeons were a major label act, signed to Virgin Records and promised the world. In the turbulent landscape of 2020, now independent, they sound more assured than ever before. 'Stir' is quite simply an album of dark textured brilliance and new found confidence. Take 'Dig a Hole, and Then Fill It in Again', which takes Phil Spector's wall of sound and gives it a post-punk shake down, leaving you yearning for a life you've left behind. "We used to be untouchable, when did it all go wrong?" sings frontman Mícheál Keating.

Scattered across 'Stir' are twinkling, rain drop synth patterns and the wash of reverb soaked guitars, adding to the grandeur, exacerbating the fever dream. Opener 'Bubble Boy' has the feel of a cross country, night-time drive, streetlights racing past your window, fading to trees the further out you allow Bleeding Heart Pigeons to carry you. The drum sounds are magnetic, gluing the tunes together, driving the machine.

This record gives you mixed signals. Are these songs triumphant, or devastatingly lonely? 'All For The Best' tips its cap to the latter, but can't help but allow itself to trust again.

"Been in the dumps for over a year now, and I've been trying but I can't see a way out...you know it doesn't make a lot of sense, but I'll believe you if you tell me that it's all for the best"

Elsewhere, tracks like 'Real Connection' swim in melody, intelligent and sharp. The Prefab Sprout influenced 'I Don't Love You Anymore' pans the camera from Keating to an ex-lover, casting the spotlight away under haunting falsetto reaches. It's an empowering release, the clearest indication of how much the band are enjoying their sweeping new sound. 'EZ Love' captures some of debut album 'Is''s more experimental mindset, but on the whole 'Stir' has its own headspace, and it's a much kinder place to be in. Or at least one where they've been able to process the events of the last 4 years.

Bleeding Heart Pigeons hold the best for last, with the drone of 'Spiritual Union' and 'Good Dogs Never Die' hitting back to back. This is the parting of clouds to let the sun back in. Mike Skinner finding his £1000 in 'A Grand Don't Come For Free'. It's thematically essential, the cinematic pinnacle that throughout 'Stir' you are hoping for.

It makes for a beautifully dark record. Haunted and perseverant. Limerick may be the hip-hop capital of Ireland right now, but its native pigeons are alive and thriving.

Taylor Johnson

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