The eyes of the Irish music industry will be on Vicar Street tonight as the winner of the RTÉ Choice Music Prize for best domestic album of 2017 is chosen. Leonard Duffy looks at the artists in contention.
1. Marlene Enright
Placemats and Second Cuts
Bantry-born Enright cut her teeth as a singer fronting Americana group the Hard Ground.
Taking time out from her day job as music booker for the White Horse bar and venue in Ballincollig, she has recorded a mesmerising debut — one that suggests PJ Harvey performing early 20th-century chansons.
There have been only two female winners of the Choice. Victory for Enright might restore the balance. It’s a long shot but many will be quieting rooting for her.
Is she a contender? Probably not. Placements and Second Cuts is an impressive first record but the judges may fear the record is not sufficiently high profile enough.
Ireland doesn’t have much of a track record with synth duos. In this land of earnest troubadours, pomp and
artifice have never really taken root. Dublin’s Sorca McGrath and Simon Cullen work hard at putting this right, with an album both haunting and urgent.
McGrath’s sad and expressive voice is the perfect conduit for songs of ripe, emotional complexity, while the beats in which they are enmeshed bring some Abba style-disco melancholy.
Having first worked together in 2012, their debut album saw daylight thanks to a Fund It crowdsource campaign.
Are they contenders? They should be as this is arguably among the best records on the shortlist.
Between the Earth and Sky
They used to be called Lynched until it was pointed out that the word had negative connotations in the age of Black Lives Matter.
As Lankum, brothers Ian and Daragh Lynch (hence the original name), Cormac MacDiarmada, and Radie Peat have stuck to their ragged Dublin trad formula — a millennial-friendly rebooting of Shane MacGowan, Ronnie Drew, and Brendan Behan.
“Dublin folk owes a lot to its environment and that’s definitely part of the appeal,” Ian told the Irish Examiner. “There’s a black humour and earthiness that you might not hear elsewhere.”
Are they contenders? Absolutely. Don’t forget that two years ago the Choice went to The Gloaming.
4. New Jackson
From Night to Night
Fed up eking a living as a troubadour, David Kitt sold his guitars and bought turntables — or something to that effect. As New Jackson, he has excelled as a DJ, producer, and remixer (of The xx among others).
In 2017, his alter-ego finally got around to a debut LP — a delightful blend of baroque electro and ballads (Kitt reverts to singer-songwriter mode to croon over two tracks).
Is he a contender? Kitt never won the Choice so perhaps the judges will use this year’s ceremony to honour his decade-plus career?
Crunching indie rock from north Dublin. Big things were expected of the trio but their retro-grunge hasn’t caught on quite as expected.
Are they contenders? No. A fun but derivative album isn’t credible enough to enhance the status of the award, while the band aren’t nearly popular enough to benefit from a public upswell.
Jangly guitar pop that sounds as if it is emanating from Camden Town rather than Camden St. Otherkin have their fans and OK benefits from shiny production, though their name recognition is low. That’s despite some A-list endorsements.
Lars Ulrich of Metallica name-checked them on his Apple Music show and they’ve supported acts as far-flung as Dead Kennedys, Guns N’ Roses, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Are they contenders? No… It’s hard to imagine a meat-and-veg indie band getting the nod above far more innovative musicians.
7. James Vincent McMorrow
The man with the golden falsetto is on a roll, with his fourth album arriving less than 12 months after the well-received We Move. Having been sampled by Drake, McMorrow’s credentials as a conjurer of grooves are undeniable — and True Care is as close as an Irish person will come to Prince-style funkiness.
Is he a contender? Absolutely. If the judges are swayed by quality rather than novelty, expect McMorrow to have a real chance.
Cork’s Eoin French gives a Celtic twist to the soaring soundscapes of Sigur Ros and Bon Iver. This is
ambitious and far-reaching music and, on his first record, French, a trained architect, could easily have fallen flat. But he pulls if off on a collection of passion and power.
Is he a contender? Talos might be the dark horse — the newcomer a quorum of the judges could live with as winner. Would that be enough to get him over the line?
9. Come On Live Long
In the Still
Country-rock with a gothic twist. Come On Live Long typify a certain kind of Irish band, who seem equally mesmerised by early 2000s alt-country and Damien Rice. But they’re good at what they do and In the Still is a slow-burner that rewards the diligent listener.
Are they contenders? Probably not — In The Still often dazzles yet ultimately feels like a more refined version of a formula you’ve already heard.
10 . Fionn Regan
The Meetings of the Waters
The shaggy-mopped singer has released perhaps his most substantial album yet (with actor Cillian Murphy popping up in the video to the title track).
It’s quite adventurous, with sprinklings of electronica and songs that verge on dark, damaged pop, with menacingly
surreal lyrics to match (“You pulled a rainbow from my skull and you said, ‘Look at that’.”)
Is he a contender? The prize would be merited, but the Wicklow native has come to be caricatured as a slightly dull acoustic strummer — you fear it might count against him.
The RTÉ Choice Music Prize ceremony will be held at Vicar Street tonight, and will be broadcast live on RTÉ 2FM from 7pm-11pm