Articles - Features

The Thin Air’s Top 100 Irish Tracks of 2013 (35-1)


Sixty-five increasingly exceptional songs in, we’re pleased to round up our first ever countdown of the Top 100 Irish Tracks of the year. Truth be told, this list could have been much, much longesear – such was the extent and quality of the output from our homegrown musical talent over the last twelve months.

From unassuming bedroom artists treading the often very thin line between absolute anonymity and mass recognition to genre-defining, decades-spanning bands that fall comfortably under “legendary” status, we’ve been very happily bombarded with some truly extraordinary Irish music over the last year.

Until next time… listen, enjoy and continue to revel in the good thing we’ve got going.

Parts one, two and three of the countdown.

35. Rory Nellis – Mind Control


When he’s not busy fronting Belfast-based indie pop band Seven Summits, Rory Nellis is a masterful craftsman of soul-searching acoustic song in his very own right. Thanks to the songwriter’s distinctly measured and meditative approach, each chord and word bears import; every stroke and summation inherent with a deeply-wrought resonance that reveals Nellis’ deep-rooted grasp of composing a filler-free, intensely-meant single. Released in September, the exquisite ‘Mind Control’ is his latest and, in our estimation, greatest solo offering to date.

34. Villagers – Nothing Arrived


Speaking of masterful singer-songwriters, Conor O’Brien’s Villagers experienced a very well-earned wave of critical and commercial acclaim with the release of Mercury Prize-nominated {Awayland} way back in January. The lead single to be taken from the album, ‘Nothing Arrived’ proved a heart-wrenchingly earnest breakthrough for the Dublin indie folk five-piece, crystallising O’Brien’s ever-growing reputation as a songwriter with a wonderfully penetrative lyrical and songwriting knack.

33. Alana Henderson – The Tower


Hailing from Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, Belfast-based cellist and songwriter Alana Henderson has experienced an incredible rise over the last year. From releasing her enchanting debut EP, Wax & Wane, in February, to becoming artist in residence at the 2013 Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, her forward-thinking and decidedly poetical brand of trad-folk has seen her lauded as one of the country’s finest new songstresses – and for very good reason. We particularly enjoyed the jaunty spell of ‘The Tower’ from Wax & Wane.

32. More Than Conquerors – Pits Of Old


After four years, two EPs and innumerable gigs together, Belfast-based alt-rock quartet More Than Conquerors released their long-awaited debut album, Everything I’ve Learnt, back in September. With the band’s collective and individual exploration of faith forming the core of the album’s lyrical approach, the album is, in frontman Kris Platt’s words, “eleven tracks of pent up aggression, frustration, bewilderment and a sense of weird belonging.” The impassioned lead single from the album, ‘Pits of Old’, positively cemented our love of the band.

Read our September interview with the band here.

31. Rachael Boyd – You Need To Stop Looking


A collaborator with many Northern Irish acts including Silhouette and Joshua Burnside, Belfast-based multi-instrumentalist electro-acoustic artist Rachael Boyd unveiled her majestic second EP, Too High, back in August. Nicely bolstered by remixes from the likes of Sun Glitters and Kelpe, the release peaked on the bewitching swoon of ‘You Need To Stop Looking’, a track perfectly propelled by Boyd’s superb musicianship and impressive layering of instrumentation. We have very high hopes for Boyd in 2014.

30. Alarmist – Bunda Internacionale


After a few months on the lowdown, Dublin-based instrumental four-piece Alarmist re-emerged in October with the stupendous ‘Bunda Internacionale’. The lead single from the band’s Pal Magnet EP, the track’s bobbing instrumentalism struck a buoyant balance between the warped math-rock textures of U.S. band Tera Melos and Ethio-jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke. More than anything, thought, the track underlined Alarmist’s status as one of the country’s finest ever instrumental acts.

29. Sisters – Hush Hush


Self-proclaimed exponents of “dream grunge”, London-based, Limerick-derived noise pop band Sisters burst into being via their debut single ‘Hush Hush’ in early December. Melding somnambulant dual harmonies with shoegazey guitar progressions, the track summoned a cunningly kaleidoscopic sound of twenty years before. We expect interesting, if not very impressive things from the three-piece in the next six months.

28. Axis Of – Lifehammer


Speaking of massively promising three-pieces, Belfast-based based alt-punk band Axis Of have done much to warrant their repute as one of the most singular bands of their ilk in the country today. Taken from their critically devoured debut album, Finding St. Kilda, the downright irresistible ‘Lifehammer’ proved one of the most thoroughly anthemic earworms from an Irish act in 2013. Endeavour to see these guys live if you’re yet to do so.

27. Crayonsmith – Chrysalis


Released via Out on a Limb records at the tail-end of September, Dublin band Crayonsmith besot us once more via their third studio album, Milk Teeth. Seeping with main man Ciarán Smith’s colourful introspection and delicate indie-pop musings, any number of the album’s tracks could have made it into our Top 100. All things considered, however, the pensive perfection of its lead single, ‘Chrysalis’, well and truly hit home for us.

26. Hurdles – Control


The only act in our countdown to be comprised of members hailing from Dungannon and Bedford, Belfast-based indie pop quartet Hurdles have drawn comparisons to acts as far-reaching as The Strokes and Two Door Cinema Club. Having whet our collective sonic appetite with the superb ‘Kaleidoscope’ back in May, the Niall Hanna-fronted four-piece released their urgent and zealous debut EP, Where To Start, in October. The unravelling ‘Control’ is our stand-out track from that.

25. Tieranniesaur – DIYSCO


Two years on from the their Choice Music Prize-nominated debut album, Dublin band Tieranniesaur unleashed the bombastic disco indie gem that was their second album, DIYSCO, back in May. Imbued with the band’s trademark groove-laden, feelgood shtick, tracks such as ‘Love Makes A Frightening Sound’ and ‘The Changeling’ really stood out but it was the album’s ridiculously infectious title track – think Chic meets Hot Chip and Metronomy – that properly delivered the goods.

24. Go Wolf – Voices

altered hours 2013

With 2014 almost certain to be their breakthrough year, the last few months have made for a heady and productive period for Belfast-based indie-pop band Go Wolf. Easily the most significant development for the three-piece, however, was their skilfully seductive single ‘Voices’ being featured on the latest compilation by French independent electronic music and fashion label Kitsuné – an imprint responsible for releasing the debut album from the band’s fellow countrymen Two Door Cinema Club.

23. Solar Bears – A Sky Darkly


Released via Planet Mu records back in Mary, Dublin/Wicklow electronic duo John Kowalski and Rian Trench AKA Solar Bears moved from beyond the bedroom door in favour of the studio on their second studio album, Supermigration. An engaging and subtly euphoric release, the album showed marked progression from the duo and a broadened sonic palette veering between understated noise and motorik-driven cosmic electro. ‘A Sky Darkly’ was our favourite of the lot.

22. The Mighty Stef – Vampire, Hold Me Tight


Taken from their three-track Iveagh Flats EP, Dublin rock four-piece The Mighty Stef released the superb ‘Vampire, Hold Me Tight’ in October. Very much a taste of what’s in store for the band’s forthcoming Alain Johannes-produced album – set for release at some point in 2014 – the single evoked the likes of the band’s main influences in The Walkmen and Primal Scream over four minutes of rollicking rock n’roll.

21. Squarehead – Crystal Ocean


Not merely content being three people who once met Morrissey, Dublin three-piece Squarehead caught us all off guard in September by suddenly releasing their second studio album, Respect. The follow-up to their stellar 2011 debut album, Yeah Nothing, it proved an unexpectedly shimmering and occasionally breathless eleven-track burst of the band’s increasingly contagious brand of starry-eyed indie pop, best heard on the exceptional ‘Crystal Ocean’.

20. Hozier – Take Me To Church


Hailing from Co. Wickow, Andrew Hozier-Byrne (or simply Hozier) announced his arrival with his exceptional debut four-track EP, Take Me To The Church, in July. Redolent of the likes of James Vincent McMorrow and Bon Iver, Hozier’s supremely soulful blues craft proved immersive and timeless in equal measure – a fully-formed revelation perfectly encapsulated on the title track from his debut EP. Potential greatness in the making? We think so.

19. Ryan Vail – Fade


Derry-based electronic duo Ryan Vail (that is, Vail and his other half in Katie Cosgrove) have had a great couple of years bestowing upon our ever-grateful ears their supremely nocturnal “dark melodic electronica”. Released in April on Belfast electronic label Champion Sound records – also home to the likes of Unknown – the spectral spell of ‘Fade’ confirmed Vail’s arrival in characteristically entrancing fashion.

18. Ed Zealous – Telepaths


With their long-awaited debut album, Wired, primed for release at the start of February, Belfast-based electro/indie-pop band Ed Zealous released their most recent single, the spontaneous-party-inducing ‘Telepaths’ in early December. One of three singles to be taken from the forthcoming album, it came accompanied with the band’s spectacular DIY video (below) – hands down our favourite video by an Irish band this year. Check that out below and our exclusive track-by-track preview of Wired here.

17. Darling – Echoes


New-fangled Dublin duo Gary Harding and James McGuire AKA Darling really hit the ground running back in October with their excellent and impossibly catchy debut single, ‘Echoes’. Produced by English producer Stephen Lipson – responsible for producing material by the likes of Annie Lennox and Pet Shop Boys, no less – the single evoked the likes of the aforementioned Two Door Cinema Club and Ed Zealous, promising an extremely encouraging 2014 in the making.

16. Sea Pinks – Magpie Eyes


Having stepped down from drumming duties at Girls Names, Neil Brogan’s Belfast surf-pop band Sea Pinks made a storming return to form in October in November with the release of the EP, Exploded View. The follow-up to the band’s 2012 album, Freak Waves, the release peaked, for us, on the release’s third of four tracks, the thoroughly accomplished ‘Magpie Eyes’. Roll on the next full-length.

15. Robyn G Shiels – Underneath The Night of Stars


Arguably the country’s finest ever purveyor of beatific acoustic doom, Kilrea-derived, Belfast-based singer-songwriter Robyn G Shiels is – all being well – set to release his highly-anticipated new album in 2014. Tiding us over in the meantime in ways that few others can so seemingly effortlessly muster, the sublime ‘Underneath The Night of Stars’ from the brief but brilliant EP of the same name summoned ghosts and banished demons in a deft and darkly stroke of wonderfully wistful folk.

14. Le Galaxie – Lucy Is Here


Quite possibly the county’s most consistently impressive party band, Dublin dance/indie four-piece Le Galaxie released the short but stomping ‘Lucy Is Here’ at the start of December. Forging retro-futuristic synth work, vocoder-drenched vocals and propulsive rhythms over two minutes, the track proved an apt taster (if not distillation) of the fast-rising outfit’s sound.

Check out our exclusive behind-the-scenes feature on the making of ‘Lucy Is Here’ right here.

13. Ciaran Lavery – American


Aghagallon acoustic-folk singer-songwriter Ciaran Lavery has long been one of our favourite Northern Irish musicians. With a seemingly inexhaustible well of incisive and inward-bound tale-telling at this disposal, he released his extraordinary debut album, Not Nearly Dark, way back in March. Made up of nine tracks of at times stunningly well-crafted songwriting, the poignant ‘American’ proved an out-and-out mid-album highlight for us and many others.

12. Affleck – Anor Londo


Made up of three quarters of one-time math-pop hopefuls Eatenbybears, Belfast-based electronic three-piece Affleck released their extremely encouraging self-titled debut EP in July.  A sublime five-track slab of phantasmal harmonies, shuffling rhythms and subtly cascading, wonderfully-woven electronic noise, its opener ‘Anor Londo’ really set the ball in motion for the hotly-tipped trio.

11. Blue Whale – Was


One of North’s finest and forward-thinking live acts, jazz-punk quartet Blue Whale have had a truly excellent 2013. From their triumphant rooftop “tour” at this year’s Culture Night Belfast to the release of their self-titled debut EP, the band’s equally energetic and experimental style melds knowingly atonal dual guitar riffs, brilliantly bobbing bass and charging, danceable rhythms – perhaps best seen on their debut single ‘Was’.  Simply put, we love them and think you should too.

10. I Am The Cosmos – Monochrome


Named after the Chris Bell album of the same name, Dublin duo Ross Turner and Cian Murphy AKA I Am The Cosmos unveiled their rapturous and cunningly executed debut album, Monochrome, at the very start of the year. Culminating in the hypnotic mastery of its closing odyssey ‘Leaving-The Shift’ and and peaking (again, for us) on its title track, the album bred analog synth textures with an otherworldly air that caught many unawares. Head-turning, genre-bending, marvellously measured stuff.

9. Girls Names – The New Life


Having bailed sun-kissed beaches for more cloistered respite on their spectacularly sculpted second album, The New Life, Belfast-based four-piece Girls Names established themselves as a bona fide force to be reckoned in the oft-too-maligned realms of existentially-appeasing post-punk of the modern age. An enthralling foray from start to finish, the title track from the album practically bordered on the euphoric. Check out its incredible video below.

8. And So I Watch You From Afar – Big Things Do Remarkable


Speaking of euphoric, North Coast post-rock quartet And So I Watch You From Afar have long been widely deemed one of the country’s finest exponents of boundlessly energetic, guitar-driven instrumental rock. Upping the exuberant ante by quite some measure on their exultant third album, All Hail Bright Futures, the band forged a forward-looking sound that shed the skin of post-rock’s more exhausted structural and compositional hallmarks. The result was nothing short of glorious and the trouncing ‘Big Things Do Remarkable’, in particular, proved… well, remarkable.

7. Bouts – 6.0


Whilst there’s certainly one or two competitors knocking about, we’re of the opinion that few Irish rock bands can hold a candle to Dublin four-piece Bouts in terms of sheer quality indie rock. Having honed the three-track “grunge-pop” tale (we firmly support the usage of this label in this instance), the lulling slacker surge of ‘6.0’ – taken from the band’s indispensible debut album, Nothing Good Gets Away – evoked the likes of Pavement, Superchunk and Built To Spill amongst others, proving one of our favourite tracks  from an Irish act in 2013 in the process.

6. Mojo Fury – Origami Bird


Two years on from their groundbreaking debut album, Visiting Hours of a Travelling Circus, Northern Irish alt-rock demigods Mojo Fury returned this year with the ridiculously impressive The Difference Between. Veering between brash and ingenuous groove-laden riffage to simmering and inimitably anthemic lullabies, the album – easily one of our favourites of the year – exploded into glorious harmonic technicolour on its swaggering and downright insatiable single ‘Origami Bird’.

5. Joshua Burnside – Black Dog Sin


One of the most distinctive and fearlessly original songwriting voices in Ireland at the minute, Comber experimental folk artist Joshua Burnside unveiled his altogether beguiling If You’re Goin’ That Way EP back in June. Lauded by the likes of BBC 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne and Gideon Coe for his original ear and poetic spirit, Burnside (and his band) are all but Northern Ireland’s one-man manifestation of the States’ Elephant 6 collective, the songwriter’s ponderous, autumnal musings manifesting as spirited folk charges time and again, his enviable live shows often climaxing on the terrific ‘Black Dog Sin’.

4. We Cut Corners – YKK


Released via Delphi in November and set to feature on their forthcoming second studio album, Dublin indie rock duo We Cut Corners obviously took no shortcuts when composing their two most recent singles, ‘Every Thief’ and ‘YKK’. Whilst the former certainly satisfied, the latter track’s jagged chords, rolling rhythms and dual vocal harmonies coalesced to deliver a single that promises very exciting things over the band’s impending second full-length release.

3. Idiot Songs – Nastasya’s Tears


Calling to mind the likes of Villagers, Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service, ‘Nastasya’s Tears’ by Pearse McGloughlin and Justin Grounds AKA Idiot Songs proved a beautifully executed and superbly constructed track propelled by delicate electronic beats, guitar and violin work. Two brilliant singer-songwriters in their own right (the former of the two hailing from Co. Sligo) the duo’s full-length self-titled release – composed and constructed via Dropbox – was a concept album borne from their mutual love of the literature of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Lovely stuff, eh?

2. Seven Summits – Little Twist


Belfast-based indie pop quartet Seven Summits have long been capable of writing a song gushing with instantly recognisable, masterfully melancholic chord progressions and frontman Rory Nellis’ introspective lyric poise and delivery. Unveiled as part of Belfast Music Week 2013, the band released their finest one-track effort to date, ‘Little Twist’ in November – a track masterfully melding bossanova beats with a crescendo-like wistfulness that yields to one of the most intoxicating refrains that we’ve heard all year. Urgent, striving brilliance.

1. Jetplane Landing – My Radio Heart


As comebacks go, the return of Derry alt-rock pioneers Jetplane Landing this year has been nothing short of breathtaking. The first single to be released from their long-awaited fourth studio album, Don’t Try, ‘My Radio Heart’ had us from the very first chord. Following its initial call to arms, a decade all but disappeared come the song’s chugging post-hardcore verse – one of the country’s most lauded alt-rock bands had returned and how. Less than three minutes in length, ‘My Radio Heart’ is the breakneck distillation of Jetplane Landing to the confines of one ridiculously accomplished single and our favourite Irish track of 2013.

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.