Album Reviews - Reviews

Jape – This Chemical Sea


How do you follow up not one, but two Choice Music Prize winning albums? This is a dilemma that so far no one has ever had to face other than Jape’s Richie Egan. He’s Ireland’s answer to PJ Harvey in that respect, although even she didn’t win her two Mercury Prizes with two consecutive albums.  First properly establishing himself with 2008’s Ritual, still a bona fide Irish classic and arguably Egan’s first solidly consistent piece of work, having benefitted from the success of minor hit single ‘Floating’ to show him which direction to settle on, 2011’s Ocean Of Frequency was crafted as more of a band effort, bringing back a few more elements of the organic instrumentation of earlier releases, but combined with the electronics in a less naïve way, and with shadows of 80s disco cropping up throughout to boot. Having since relocated to Sweden, for album number five Egan has stripped things back to just himself and regular collaborator Glenn Keating and recorded in his own Malmö studio, which seems to have resulted in a greater sense of focus and cohesion.

This Chemical Sea builds on the more electronic, less nostalgic aspects of Ocean Of Frequency, but this time round everything sounds more confident and assured. Guitars are nowhere to be seen for once – the recent inactivity of instrumental titans The Redneck Manifesto, where Egan first made his name as a fearsome bassist, resulting in him choosing to use that instrument as the starting point for each track instead, while his desire for the album to have a cohesive sound has led to him eschewing the token acoustic tracks that usually crop up. It’s an effect that works well – no longer are Egan the electronic producer and Egan the folky songsmith trying to compete, instead this is the kind of album with such a defining sound, that from the opening bars of ‘Séance Of Light’ the listener is plunged into the depths of Egan’s chemical sea, with basses, synths, drum machines and Egan’s melodic vocals swirling through the brain, and not allowed to re-emerge until the very end.

There are strong echoes of last year’s Caribou album Our Love – both albums being mixed by David Wrench most likely being part of the reason – but Egan proves himself more than a match for Dan Snaith. ‘The Heart’s Desire’ possesses one of the most infectious choruses in the Jape canon so far, while ‘Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon’, a collaboration with Conor O’Brien of Villagers, builds to a climax to rival Snaith’s own ‘Can’t Do Without You’. There’s also a similar mid-tempo pace throughout, aside from ‘Love On The Crest Of A Wave’, a would-be floor filler with yet another killer bassline that’s sure to be a live highlight on the upcoming tour, and even the album’s less memorable moments are hugely enhanced by the rich and enthralling production throughout.

In the end, This Chemical Sea emerges sounding like Ritual’s more assured older brother – perhaps not quite as ‘fun’, but more mature and interesting in a different way, and by far Egan’s most accomplished work to date. Cathal McBride

Make sure to check out Richie Egan’s column on the writing and recording of the Chemical Sea in the next issue of our physical magazine.