WELCOME to Listmas! Bring me your tired and hungry record collections as we dive into the LPs and singles that hit home the most with Northern Winds this year. As always, we're keeping it local and highlighting the best albums and singles from Irish artists, North and South, that reached public ears in the last 12 months. Without further ado, let's jump right into the second part of our end of year feature.
5) Sinead'O Brien - Time Bend and Break the Bower
You can read anything you need to know about this album by its cover artwork. Gothic, sleek, dangerous, the London-based O'Brien wields her plosives and imagery like a hatchet. Poetry and post-punk meld in a magnetic vortex of spiked lyricism, experimental rhythms and in-your-face vocals.
4) The Mary Wallopers - The Mary Wallopers
They sound like a trad session, but they play like punks. Not much to hate there. The Wallopers' take on old Irish classics and original contemporary foot-stompers is as firebrand and essential as any releases this year. Including the fan favourite of 'Cod Liver Oil' and 'The Orange Juice' on their debut is a nod to their journey so far, but it is tracks like 'Frost Is All Over' that solidify them as an act of the moment.
I made no secret of how excited I was for the return of the Cork-born composer, producer and songwriter we know as Talos. His debut is an all-time favourite of mine. His follow-up, builds on the success and strengths before blossoming into a maelstrom of epic proportions. Electro-acoustic compositions clash with cinematic scores, folktronic vocals and vibrant waves of beautiful, lush production.
Multi-instrumentalists and songwriters Ye Vagabonds are rightfully making waves around the globe (there's an album name joke in there I'm sure). Their second album was awarded 'Best Folk Album' at this year;s RTÉ award ceremony in Dublin, and they're fresh off sold-out shows in London, Dublin and more. A retro act with an inescapable ear for melody and arrangement, 'Nine Waves' sounds simultaneously like an opus and an act hungry to show more. Delicate rivers of strings and acoustics cut valleys through the dense and beautiful vocal harmonies, crescendoing into drone-like, hypnotic numbers that leave you in a dazed state.
1) Robocobra Quartet - Living Isn't Easy
Winners of this year's 'Best Album' at the NI Music Prize, there's only so much more praise we can heap upon 'Living Isn't Easy'. Sounding both fresh and familiar, the wild production and arrangement of this LP belie the calculated approach to the songwriting. It's rare you find an album so fine-tuned, with no fat or gristle left on it, that also blurs the lines between experimental and contemporary. Jazz, punk, rock, spoken word, electronic and neo-classical all get their day in the sun on this one, as RQ take you deep into their world.
5) Junk Drawer - Railroad King
Complete with an award-winning music video, Belfast-based Junk Drawer take aim at the worthy and the busy on 'Railroad King'. Jagged, alternative, garage and slacker rock come to the fore on this one, with spangled acoustics and whispered vocals leading you down a revelatory road.
One to keep an eye on going forward. This Derry act exploded on to the scene this year and haven't looked back. A UK tour in the back pocket, an aesthetic that could roll with major label artists and some of the best songs of the year. With hints of Pillow Queens and Derry legend SOAK as well as their own self-depreciating brand of comedy in the lyrics, this was easily one of the top songs of the year.
3) Ye Vagabonds - Blue Is The Eye
The stand-out from their extremely brilliant second album,' Blue Is The Eye' combines everything we love about Vagabonds. Impossibly personal, yet cinematic in scope and universal in appeal, the dual singers use their voices to give a sense of the size of this track.
2) Robocobra Quartet - Wellness
The first single dropped from their new album sets the tone. A satirical/accurate take on influencer culture as documented in mainstream media is given a satirical and destructive spin. Frontman and drummer Chris Ryan is electrifying in his delivery, making such lines as "I receive Electrons from the Earth" as hilarious and terrifying as the Trainspotting monologue. The funniest, most confrontational and most magnetic single of the year.
1) Fontaines D.C. - I Love You
What more can be said about Fontaines D.C.? They've taken the world by storm and played a crucial role in returning Irish music to the mainstream. And it's this song, their best yet from all three albums, the spiritual successor of The Pogues' 'Thousands Are Sailing' that has stood out the most. Both a love letter to Ireland and a damning declaration of its failures, frontman Grian Chatten is on fire throughout.