It feels fitting for Dublin label/collective Popical Island to re-emerge from hibernation with the release of this second album by Autre Monde – something of a supergroup of Popical Island alumni, fronted by Paddy Hanna along with members of Ginnels, No Monster Club and Land Lovers. Produced once again by Gilla Band’s Daniel Fox, on Sensitive Assignments the quartet stray further still from the more conventional indie pop of their early singles, taking the more synth-heavy direction of 2020 LP The Imaginary Museum into deeper oddball territory than ever before.
While the excellently titled ‘Road to Domestos’ – an ode to domestic chores – remains closer to the band’s earlier sound with its catchy verse-chorus-verse structure, the warped keys and disorientating chords of opening tracks ‘Don’t Have Brain’ and ‘Pity For Upright Man’ bring to mind Talking Heads in Remain in Light mode, with Hanna’s distinctive vocal presence proving a more than adept David Byrne. Meanwhile, the elastic synth riff and repetitive vocal chants of ‘It Likes It Very Much To Be Pleasant’ have an unabashed Devo quality.
But despite an urge to reach for comparisons and reference points, Sensitive Assignments is one of the more unique Irish albums you’ll hear this year, with lyrical references that range from Anna Burns’ Booker Prize winning novel Milkman to Burkina Faso revolutionary Thomas Sankara. The record is perfectly summed up by its closing title track, a 10 minute, four part epic full of abrupt tonal shifts that somehow slot together perfectly. An impressive leap forward. Cathal McBride