AS tensions between the arts sector and the government continue to rise in the south, two powerhouses of Irish music dropped their long-awaited albums this year: one a debut, and the other a magnum opus.
As the summer months and the window for Ireland's festival economy come to a close, calls have increased for the powers-that-be to establish a clear and concise plan of action for the return of entertainment. This was compounded with voices such as Festival Republic director Melvin Benn. He was on RTÉ Radio One last week, where he compared leadership between the UK and the South, voiced his concerns for the long-term damage to the industry, and compared the sector's treatment to the infamous Thierry Henry handball of 2009, stating: “Everybody knew it was wrong and yet the ref ignored it... everybody knows this is wrong.”
When accompanied by the Events Industry Alliance’s statement of disappointment following a meeting with Minister Catherine Martin and news that cuts to the PUP will be incoming, one can only wonder where FF/FG’s priorities lie.
Release-wise, this may have been one of the most anticipated weeks of the year. To start with, the newcomer (sort of). Although well-established in her own right up till this point, one Irish songwriter got a first this week. Orla Gartland released her debut full-length record, ‘Woman On The Internet’, a not so subtle nod to her career origins on YouTube. On the surface, a mix of expertly crafted indie rock tunes that are aching to be danced to, but even the most half-hearted digging will expose Gartland’s exceptional lyricism and songcraft. Her command of language and colourful bridges throughout the LP are marvellous, and the ever-shifting dynamics between pop-punk, indie, disco and singer-songwriter mean that you’re never in one place for long, but you’re never out of your comfort zone. Laden with addictive riffs and spurred on with an anxious urgency, Gartland has nailed it here.
Then, the established star. It’s been over a decade since the release of ‘Becoming A Jackal’ and yet Villagers continue to impress, evolve and deliver on the hype. His latest, the gorgeous ‘Fever Dreams’, sees the multi-instrumentalist follow the patterns of his previous ‘The Art Of Pretending To Swim’ as he distances himself further from his folk roots and incorporates the likes of brass, keys and electricity into his sound. Depicted with several album covers, symbolic of the ever-shifting nature of the LP, Conor O’Brien stakes his claim as a generational musical talent with a series of intricate tracks that stray ambitiously over widescreen piano and soul, big band blues, folk roots, vibrant indie and dance music.
Transformative in all the best ways, the latest from Villagers sets the bar for what the modern Irish scene could sound like.
As always, we cast a spotlight on some of the best independent releases of the last week. Belfast-based Americana quartet No Oil Paintings emerge from their stellar festival performances at Stendhal with the roots-rock thumper ‘What Good Does It Do’. Drenched in a spirit of delta blues and soil-under-the-fingers rock, this is the soundtrack to that salon you’ve been meaning to visit. G’wan and go for it, No Oil Paintings just gave you the go-ahead.
Aso grabbing my attention is the fruitful collaboration between Myles McCormack and Donegal producer uladh. ‘The River Rises’ is a three-track release, spurred by Myles’ signature horizon-spanning folk, which is coupled with an entrancing lo-fi remix from his producer collaborator. One for the dark nights ahead.
And finally, Bobbi Arlo’s dense ‘Fever Thoughts’ is so dark and sweaty you can almost taste it. Gorgeous vocals set against angular rhythms and beats, I’ve been hard-pressed not to play this on repeat all weekend.