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This Month In Irish Music: March

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In the latest of a new regular series, Colin Gannon rounds up the very best Irish tracks released of the month just gone, featuring The Claque, Uwmammi, Invader Slim, James Joys, Cassavetes, Jafaris and more.

The Claque — Hush

Hush, the transfixing single from The Claque — the newly reinvented trio comprising of Alan Duggan (Girl Band), Kate Brady and Paddy Ormond — was this month’s most wiry, propulsing listen. Miasmic textures, beautiful, veiled melodies and bristling, febrile noise collide, ensuring the group avoid immediate categorisation. The eardrum-splitting tautness of Girl Band does come to mind, but the group are clearly hoping to demarcate themselves from Dara Kiely’s early decade adroitness by favouring more conventional song structures. Instead, they rig Hush with fuzzy filigree and gorgeous pop pointillism. Not many bands in Ireland have, in the recent past, made such a big first impression.

Junior Boy/PowPig

“It’s so savage that we have a songwriter who sounds like Richard Dawson, Joanna Newsom and John Fahey all getting pure steamed together in east Kerry,” the Thin Air’s reviews editor, Eoin Murray, recently tweeted of Junior Boy. In doing so, he authored the month’s most precise, lacerating Irish music criticism.

A collaborative release between rising Limerick band PowPig (pictured, top) and Kerry troubadour Junior Boy has produced some of the most finely wrought Irish songwriting this young year. Rekindling an Irish fondness for rural romanticism, Junior Boy, with the help with a period-inappropriate squall of a voice, is the EP’s centrepiece. Full of Wine, a spacious track with plucky guitar-playing, is as rebellious track as he has written to date, containing an urgency that’s difficult to ignore. Lurching from a kind of Irish occultism to straight-up humanism, his lyrics are bold and fresh and delivered with wild, dilated eyes.

Fascinatingly, Junior Boy has yet to bewitch some of the traditional music gatekeepers — perhaps because he vocalises like he’s allergic to rhythm itself, and his lyrics too cryptic and voice too acrid to reduce to a meaningless label like singer-songwriter. A future trailblazer in the making, his debut album is due this year. And many people are geekishly awaiting the project, unknowing of what kind of magic the young writerly talent can compress into one, neat summary statement.

Cailín — Life 17

Last January, I named Odd Ned’s Potboiler project as one of the month’s best releases. Fast forward to March, and another fascinating collection of grainy, dust-laden, techno-adjacent tracks arrived, this time courtesy of producer and DJ Cailín Power. There’s a certain insurgency to the pounding, spasmodic rhythms on highlight Life 17; aesthetically, the song harks back to the diminutive yet controversial heyday of lo-fi some years ago, but it packs too much dynamism, too much drum splicing, and too much heart, to be pigeonholed alongside such a one-dimensional grouping. By the year’s end, it may become apparent that the Potboiler series is one the most exciting Irish musical events of 2019.

Invader Slim — What Hook

Arklow’s Invader Slim dropped two new tracks this month, The Rain and What Hook, and it’s the latter that turned out the most captivating. It finds him zeroing on the more ghoulish elements of his persona, and the Numbertheory beat — pared-down Frankenstein freakism with horror movie keys, thick bass and gory sampled effects — acts as the aptly zany canvas for him to rap some characteristically glint-eyed couplets: “Sippin’ so much Guinness, I might put ‘em out of business.” He’s ditching some of the extraneous layers Irish rappers have long been associated with in the past — overcompensating for a lack of ideas with over-rapping, rigidity in lyrical content. Building with each release, Invader Slim has gone from underground lynchpin to one of Irish rap’s most daringly simple and innovative artists.

Cassavetes — Hurry Up, We’re Gonna Die

In a country as small as Ireland, you would imagine that few albums dip under the critical radar. Nevertheless, Limerick emo band Casavettes’s dazzling Senselessness has been treasonously overlooked. Their expansive sound — brightly-lit, bleary emo melodies with occasional posthardcore maelstroms — is ragingly fully formed, touching on shoegaze and grunge at times. Outside of the colourful, intricate instrumentation, lead singer Diarmuid O’Shea’s plaintive vocalisations carry a similarly powerful emotional weight as American Football’s Mike Kinsella. On the hook of one of the album’s best and most striking songs, ‘Hurry Up, We’re Going to Die’, he screams, with a controlled yet pathologically unsettled verve, that’s he had enough. This serves best as the album’s synopsis: Emoting should not be seen as a sign of weakness, and agonising over feelings of pain should not entirely avoided — especially when you can turn times of adversity into such compelling, challenging art.

James Joys — Luxury of Doubt

It had been a dream of James Thompson’s to write music for a choir, spurred on by loving memories of his father singing Bach chorales. Dedicated to his father, as well as his daughter and the self-obliterating outside world he so laments, A Constellation of Bargained Parts is perhaps his most alluringly tactile work yet. Utilising a mournful Codetta Choir and Ex-Isles’ vocalist Peter Devlin to devastating effect, the album’s opening track, The Luxury of Doubt, sets the tone immediately: an interplanetary dance between postmodern electronica and scriptural choral music almost as old as music itself. Luxury of Doubt, one of five unspooling elegies here, considering it’s airy, celestial qualities, demands your utmost attention.

As The Thin Air wrote upon the album’s release, “if there’s any semblance of justice in the world, [this] will help see him be regarded as one of the country’s finest musical minds.” Gracefully and methodically, James Joys is carving his name out as Ireland’s most exciting modern composer.

YZ (featuring Jug Jug & Cubez) — Confessions

Though balmy and silky, Confessions’ verses are anything but: attritional shit-talking, both coded and uncoded, from some of the scene’s foremost shit-talkers. Anchored by a deep-lying bass and spiky, jittery drums, the verse of YZ, of the D9 crew, foreshadows a short beef-indulging appearance from the 090 crew’s Cubez; in the space of 10 seconds, the rapper coldly denigrates former crew member and one-time friend JB. 2: “Let me state some facts, I’m the reason JB.2 raps.”

Competition is always healthy, and bellicosity is never a bad trait in rap music, in spite of any misgivings from old, white people and the kind of galaxy-brain polemics who host Newstalk radio shows. As Irish drill continues to strive towards being Irish rap’s popular epicentre, YZ has become 2019’s most reliable Irish source of ominous, sleek rap music.

Conor Walsh — Bars

Understandably, most artists would be worried about entrusting anyone other than themselves to release a project of their own deeply considered works after their death. Conor Walsh, the pianist and neoclassical composer who tragically passed away in 2016, would, I imagine, have no such qualms with those who brought the posthumous The Lucid album to life. A collection of compositions entirely written by Walsh are divided into two fairly distinct halves: The opening tracks are dreamy, distance-haunted piano pieces, followed by a second half of glassy, electronica-infused songs, presumably a directorial choice by those who assembled the album. Despite its origins, the album functions as one cohesive piece of music, and Bars in particular, sounds untainted by time or process, washing it’s away across your brain like a warm rush of serotonin after vigorous exercise.

More than merely being an ode to Conor, The Lucid is an ode to the beauty of minimalism, positioning itself as something greater than simply hammering keys and organising notes. Zoom in and you’ll get lost in the details: Walsh’ delicate piano forgings, the sound of birdsong, light, fluttering percussion. This album ensures, along with recent All City Records reissues, that revisionism doesn’t wrestle important artists from the Irish canon, and it cements, if it was ever even disputed, Walsh as one of Ireland’s most important piano masters.

Uwmammi — givvvvv

Uwmammi’s songs are artful in their simplicity. Accompanying pillowy synths, and her groaning vocals, slathered as they are in reverb, are modern hip-hop drums which, almost counterintuitively, drive the track. In truth, givvvvv sounds like a chopped-and-screwed version of a song at the cusp of R&B and rap: a mellow, somnolent cloud of a track, intangible in how it lies at the intersection of distorted alt-R&B like Abra and rap-imbued bedroom dream-pop like Ness Nite. “Give me peace,” she sings over and over, her voice buried deep in the mix.

Contrary to popular opinion, not all music should sound perfectly mixed. If you’re going to bury novel ideas into a hazy web, then you must ensure those ideas are resoundingly good. Luckily for Uwmammi, her music possesses a devilish adventurousness that marks her out as one to watch.

Replete — Potre

Optimised for off-kilter DJs and those who prefer their dance music weird, Kilkenny label Moot Tapes’s four-track EP, titled Working, comprises solely of homespun Irish productions. R.Kitt, TR-One, Jellypelt and label boss Replete make up the track-listing — and it’s Replete’s Potre that is the short EP’s most brainy, enigmatic listen. Acidy squabs and stabbing drums dovetail in a glorious display of dancefloor nirvana, exploding then around the 3 minute mark into something louder and more urgent. It’s sparkling, spirited, high-powered, human and somewhat unhinged — how else is dance music supposed to feel?

Jafaris — Shanduka

Possibly Irish rap’s headline album of 2019, Jafaris’s Stride is not particularly to my liking. Even so, Shanduka, hidden beneath the God-exalting, gleaming tracklisting, is quite clearly one of the better Irish rap outings this year. “I still go bar for bar like I roll with Charles de gaulle,” he raps forwardly on the song’s Eminem-style, multisyllabic rap-patterned first verse. Later, he sounds demonic and possessed, his voice, pitched and stretched, veering into the schizophrenic. Jafaris can often sound word drunk, but here, on the album’s standout track, he cruises around towering drums and a weird, wandering spacey synth with unnerving control.

Biig Piig — Vete

Biig Piig’s Vete is ebullient without being hopeful, solemn without being dejected. London transplant Jessy Smyth, the crooning, jazz-rap-influenced mind behind Biig Piig, released A World Without Snooze Vol. 2 this month, her second EP following last year’s much-heralded Big Fan of the Sesh Vol. 1. She even raps in Spanish on the song’s second verse, showcasing her stellar voice bilingually, an accomplishment not too many Irish artists can lay claim to. The slow-moving Vete has enough buttery neo-soul goodness, and enough fun, syrupy live instrumentation, to push Biig Piig’s nostalgic, occasionally anodyne sound, forwards.