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

Track of the Week | C H A I L A | Denise Chaila

by 04:59

Denise Chaila is making a habit of writing razor sharp, multi-cultural witticisms in her music.

A voice of increasing importance in the Irish hip-hop scene, Chaila first burst into the musical conscious of many with her live streamed performance with fellow MC God Knows at the National Gallery of Ireland, for Other Voices’s Courage series. (If you've not saw the performance, click here. 

Whether bigging up the importance of self belief on 'Copper Bullets', or spitting watertight Gaelic on 'Down', Chaila is an artist that prides herself on authenticity and that all encompassing desire to never compromise her artistic vision. It helps of course, being so tightly knit with Rusagano Family's Murli, a group she has collaborated with before; even featuring on their track 'Isn't Dinner Nice'. That said, this is a project entirely of her own creation, her flow high in the mix, almost like a spoken word record.

On 'C H A I L A', the Zimbabwean born, Limerick based MC takes aim at those too lazy to correctly pronounce her name. Over glacial beats and production bordering on the poppier side of UK garage, she lays out her mission statement from verse one.

"You already know it’s gonna go down
My name’s not THAT hard to pronounce
Pre-K, it’s not profound
Sound the words out"

To possess such conviction will carry Denise Chaila far; with much of her conversationalist flow and control on the mic evoking a young Mike Skinner. Whilst 2020 Limerick and early 2000's Birmingham feel lifetimes apart, the vitality of the MC's describing their hometowns feel closer than you may expect.

This is the first released track from her upcoming debut LP, potentially a future landmark Irish release. Let's push things forward.

Taylor Johnson

TPM / The Mary Wallopers Protest | Explained

by 06:15

Are you wondering what was happening in Dundalk the other day? So were we.

This was a story featuring a rogue hip-hop group, an Irish trad band, and a former staff writer for the Irish Independent. Ready? Allow us to explain...

UCD masters graduate and award winning journalist Gemma O'Doherty is a controversial figure in Ireland. Alongside her journalistic credentials, she is the leader of the citizens movement 'Anti-Corruption Ireland', a banner fellow Irish columnist John Waters ran under during the 2020 general elections. He was unsuccessful.

In May the pair mounted a legal challenge against Covid-19 public health restrictions, with O'Doherty making a speech to the gathered crowd before entering the High Court. In this speech, while holding a copy of the Constitution, Ms O’Doherty criticised the Government, the media, the World Health Organisation, and even the need for vaccines. 

While in court, Waters claimed that the consequences of the lockdown would result in the “destruction of our society”. They drew comparisons with Nazi Germany, which the judge found to be 'absurd and offensive'. The case was thrown out. Ouch.

 Awk well, at least there was still good old fashioned public protesting to get the message across, right?

Enter TPM, a Dundalk based hip-hop act writing tongue in cheek tunes about life on the dole, drugs and the evils of RTE television. They've been building a fan base in Ireland for over 5 years now, selling out shows with their electro-rap.

In July last year, the band took a total de-tour, swapping Rubberbandits inspired comedic videos, for genuinely moving Irish folk ballads. They named their new group 'The Mary Wallopers' and though TPM still retains a larger online following for now, the gap is closing by the day. Last year The Mary Wallopers went on a European tour, announced a huge headline show in Whelans, and even played Glastonbury.

Don't believe us? Check out their debut EP 'A Mouthful of The Mary Wallopers' below.

Back to yesterday.

Gemma O'Doherty had planned a protest march against the government on Blackrock beach, Dundalk. This was a small scale gathering, with 'End Corruption' banners and tricolour's on display.

Then came our heroes. Armed with homemade signs ('Bring Back the Punt!') and tin foil hats to 'protect against 5G internet', TPM had formed their own counter protest under the name 'Dundalk Against Change'.

Some highlights from the two man rebellion include;

"The internet is too fast! Bring back dial up!"

"We used to have two Tescos in our town! We had one Tesco for clothes and another for food, now we just have one!"

and a personal favourite, "We want our old ways because that's the way that we had it...and the new ways are wrong!"

If you've not checked out the viral video yet, click here. 

The small crowd that had gathered to support O'Doherty was soon dwarfed by the bemused onlookers caught up in TPM's surprise visit. The video has already amassed nearly half a million views on Twitter alone.

If you'd like to check out more from The Mary Wallopers, you can catch their next live stream on Friday night.

Now, lets bring back the old shopping centre!

Taylor Johnson

(A Conditional) Return To Form | The 1975 New Album Review

by 05:08

I would rather live in a world with Notes On A Conditional Form, The 1975's new juggernaut LP, than without it.

The world is a better place for bold visions, and those brave enough to follow through with them. On their fourth album Matty Healy and co have delivered a record of remarkable juxtaposition, perhaps the first true musical representation of the 21st century. There’s trip-hop, anarchic-punk, modulated vocal takes, boy band ballads and 80’s/90’s pop. There’s confessions that will fascinate their already dedicated fan base (Healy didn’t really fuck in a car) and revelations that will bore the rest of us (we’ve only a thousand Monday mornings left).

Made on the road, in 16 different studios amidst a worldwide tour for the ‘Brief Inquiry...’ hit-parade, the diverse nature of ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ should come as little surprise. The 1975 are a band indebted to their surroundings, this album arriving like a Spotify playlist randomly accumulating tracks based off previous listening history, rather than a concise, fully planned vision. They are worldwide; born in England, raised by the internet. To see a band so openly subvert genre on a record is thrilling, and fully reflective of a planet connected at our fingertips.

The 1975 swing wildly from the climate activist Greta Thunberg narrated opener, to ‘People’, a riotous, Fugazi inspired thrash which sees drummer George Daniel impressively avoid touching his cymbals. It's an intoxicating one-two, which you feel Healy couldn't possibly believe in any more, for fear he'll combust behind the microphone. The audacious, ‘The End (Music For Cars)’ then sits bizarrely out of place, having strayed too far from its real home on the Jurassic Park soundtrack. For an album of loose semblance and outlandish contrasts, the blue-print for 'Notes...' is laid out pretty much from the start here. 'Frail State Of Mind' takes the shuffling, claustrophobic DNA of hit 'TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME' and takes it back to his bedroom. 'I'm sorry for my frail state of mind', he sings over minimalist beats. Unlike it's predecessor, 'Frail State Of Mind' is quiet enough to be believable, leaving the bombast and horns behind. Healy has time and again expressed his admiration for Mike Skinner and The Streets, and at The 1975's best they capture some of their intimacy.

'Streaming' is the sound of leftover synth lines, recycled by an orchestra given no time signatures or firm direction to take things. Though impressive on it's own or as an introduction to the band's live set (although that role will undoubtedly fall to Thunberg's climate crisis address), here it acts as an exaggerated intro to 'The Birthday Party', a song that once more aims for more Skinner-styled patter, but feels awkward and uninviting. A conversation you'd rather not be overhearing.'Yeah I Know' sees Healy repeating himself over anxious, electronic beats. "Time feels like it's changed, I don't feel the same', he sings, before looping it backwards for no real reason. It adds little to the record, and would probably still add little to an extended deluxe edition of 'Notes...', which is what this record feels like anyway.

They follow this with 'Then Because She Goes', a wondrous exploration of the moment two loves part, even for a little while. It's a short blast of emotion, "I wake up, love you, love you, love you". He can't emphasize his point enough, like teenagers texting before bed, reassuring eachother that when they wake up, they'll still feel the same.

Phoebe Bridgers can do no wrong at present. Whether conquering the world with her own devastatingly sad solo music, releasing groundbreaking folk with Conor Oberst in Better Oblivion Community Center or playing the role of indie Dixie Chick as 1/3 of boygenius, hers is a voice of multi-generational appeal. Her inclusion on 'Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America' is a gorgeous move, helping to tell the story of a young, oppressed, gay person in 2020 USA. Healy and Bridgers vocals meld well, as you suspect they would, but where 'Jesus Christ...' and 'The Birthday Party' feel forced, 'Roadkill' sounds effortless and brilliantly sad. A song about being on the road, inadvertently searching for love and the stress of pop-stardom; but with none of the 'woe is me' pomposity that a young, handsome pop-star in his early 30's may write about. Healy sounds real here, not hiding behind vocal effects or a third person perspective. He wants to find peace, but he'll settle for a condom first.

'Me & You Together Song' is Notes On A Conditional Form's triumph. A 3 minute pop-song of such unabashed sincerity that you can't help but feel you're living it with him. He's been mugged off all across America, but it's okay; 'I've been in love with her for ages', he sings over coruscating guitars and 90's style riffs. You can't imagine the cathartic release this song must have gifted Healy. Devastatingly direct and simple, as if he's in the room with his love. 11 songs in, you could close the door here, but not so. For those brave enough to venture on, strap yourselves in for side 2.

The record's golden child, the Michael Jackson pinching, already streamed in the millions, 'If You're Too Shy (Let Me Know) is a hollow misstep. Fun to a point, but haven't The 1975 done this already? Like, a few times? Perhaps that's harsh, as we're holding them to a chameleonic standard that's probably impossible for even them to live up to; but 'If You're Too Shy...' feels like a SNL parody song, a caricature of a long forgotten band on a Top Of The Pop's 80's special. Healy claims it's an exploration of online voyeurism and sexual expression, but that message is completely lost here.

Elsewhere, 'Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)' sets it's sight on Kanye's 'College Dropout', while 'Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied' takes it's cue from 'The Life Of Pablo', particularly 'Ultralight Beam'. Neither hit home with anything much to say. 'There's more instrumentals, the George Daniel deep cut 'Having No Head' resting towards 'Notes...' finish line. It might sound cool in an educational video about space; but this is a record throwing far too much of itself away. It's a lazy addition, completely unnecessary.

Discussing the festival dance-tent evoking 'What Should I Say', Healy admits 'it's a result of us never figuring it out'. I'd argue that's the case for most of  'Notes On A Conditional Form'. When they do solve the puzzle, like on the truly heartfelt 'Guys', where Healy sings of how starting a band 'was the best thing that ever happened' to the tune of John Waite's 'Missing You', it cements their place as one of the 21st century's most important acts so far.

Unfortunately  'Notes...' too often collapses under it's own gargantuan ambition. Still, few bands will ever be brave or talented enough to make anything like it.

Taylor Johnson

Track of the Week | Sick Nanley | Lampin

by 04:31

As co-founder of Burner Records, producer-MC Sick Nanley is rarely far from Ireland's newest cultural movement. Hip-hop in the South is a fast growing enterprise, with new artists emerging every week adding fuel to it's growing fire. In the North, Mabfield collective has blew up, shining a light on alternative culture and new sounds, while artists like Jordan Adetunji, Tebirex and more are paving the way for Irish hip-hop on a national scale.

'Lampin' is the choice cut from Sick Nanley's new 'Muttonhead' mixtape, a project born from necessity after Covid-19 postponed plans for a collab with fellow Burner Records artist Local Boy, who ended up on mixing duties. It was made in his bedroom, but sounds studio ready. It's refined and well produced, but refuses to take itself too seriously.

Spitting lackadaisical verses on a chill-hop beat, 'Lampin' is a tongue in cheek celebration of chilling out and doing absolutely nothing. "There's fuck all else to be doing" he laughs at the end.

Well, he's not wrong is he?

Taylor Johnson 

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