The Fontaines DC may be favourites for tomorrow night's Irish album of the year prize, but they’re up against a strong crop of other nominees, writes
The culmination of two weeks’ work in isolation in the French countryside post-breakup, the Galway producer’s second album is a gentle listen, offering an arm around the shoulder and guest vocals from the likes of Bell X1’s Paul Noonan, Orla Gartland, and more. It all hangs together well, though it lacks a bit of spark — it’s all very... controlled.
A solid album, but unlikely to take the top prize.
MICK FLANNERY— Mick Flannery
The sixth album from the Corkman, and his first away from a major label, doesn’t deviate too much from the templete of contemplative, fireside tomes, channelling Tom Waits over a pint of stout. He still knows his way around a hit — ‘Fool’ and ‘I’ll Be Out Here’ are evidence of that.
May possibly get written off as ‘just’ another singer-songwriter album, even though it’s far more interesting than that.
FONTAINES DC— Dogrel
A blistering listen from one of the most exciting bands in the country, the debut album from the world -conquering Dublin-based five-piece is a guitar-lover’s dream. Wearing influences like The Cure, The Jam, and fellow nominees Girl Band on their sleeves, it’s Grian Chatten’s sneery Dublin vocals that elevate proceedings here, with newer tracks like ‘Television Screens’ already indicating a quickly found maturity.
It should definitely be in the conversation, and is as close as you’ll get to a hot favourite in such an unpredictable prize. But there’s a swirling backlash in some quarters that could do for them in the end.
GIRL BAND— The Talkies
The early consensus on Girl Band’s second album was that fans were just happy they were back — well-covered mental health issues had left things in doubt. Six months on from its release, the LP still sounds fresh and exciting.
It’s not quite a guitar album — Alan Duggan evades chords as he adds to the cacophany of noise that rings around Dara Kiely’s innovative lyrics; he evades pronouns throughout, uses cut-and-paste techniques, sounds like he’s having panic attacks in places, and, on ‘Aibophobia’ (an, ahem, fear of palindromes), he loads up on lines that read the same forward and back. It feels genuinely innovative.
It might scare away some of the radio DJs on the judging panel, but it’s a fascinating, rewarding 45 minutes.
A rapper you may remember from the film Sing Street a few years ago, Jafaris looks like a star in the making. His debut album has some very obvious highlights — ‘Time’, ‘Found My Feet’, and ‘Invisible’ are irrisistible swaggering affairs — though the religious overtones (he found the album title while searching YouTube for sermons) might prove too overbearing for some.
Packing 13 songs into 30 minutes, and produced by Dublin’s Diffusion Lab (Soulé, Hare Squaed, etc), it’s an engaging album and indicitative of how strong the rap/hip-hop scene is in the country right now.
More than the token rap album of the shortlist, there’s genuinely plenty to discover in Stride. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Jafaris strode off with the Choice Prize.
JUNIOR BROTHER— Pull The Right Rope
Kerry artist Ronan Kealy aka Junior Brother is esoteric/Marmite. He layers alt-folk acoustic-guitar playing with cutting images of modern millennial life, whether that involves getting sick in a ditch or having your heart broken, all over a highly strung and breaking vocal. He cites Joanna Newsom, Lisa O’Neill, and Richie Kavanagh as influences. You can’t argue with the musicianship: It’s sparse and insular at times, veering into prog on the determined nine-minute ‘Purple Circle’, and going full-out seisuin on ‘Full of Wine’. The likes of ‘The Back of Her’ are infused with poetry, as Kealy showcases his way with words.
His voice will likely divide the room, but Junior Brother is a huge talent deserving of all the plaudits.
LANKUM— The Livelong Day
The Dublin trad act say they wanted their third album to sound like the apocalyse. Apart from the haunting ‘The Young People’, chronicling the issue of suicide among young Irish men, Lankum have succeeded in their goal. ‘The Wild Rover’, all 10 minutes of it, has never sounded like it does here, Radie Peat showcasing just why she’s the best singer in the country right now. Inspired by a version sung by Dónal Maguire, it’s a magnificent achievement. There are traditional reels and songs spread across the rest of The Livelong Day, with drones throughout adding a dark undercurrent.
A new generation of listeners and critics have discovered trad over the past decade — a Lankum win here would seal the journey.
SOAK— Grim Town
The only nominee who’s won the Choice Prize before, it’s easy to forget that Derry artist Bridie Monds- Watson is still only 23. After the success, during her mid-teens, of her debut album, she took a break and returned with the 15-track, 53-minute Grim Town. She offers reassurance and hope, while letting the listener wallow in their woes, and hasn’t lost her knack for a pop hook, as evidenced by the likes of ‘Knock Me Off My Feet’.
Too hit and miss to be seriously considered, though it has its high points, and Soak definitely has her fans.
MAIJA SOFIA— Bath Time
Perhaps the most left-of-centre act on the shortlist, Galway-born, Dublin-based artist Maija Sofia has crafted her relatively sparse debut album around maligned, misunderstood or forgotten women: There’s ‘Edie Sedgwick’, named after the muse of Andy Warhol; ‘The Wife of Michael Cleary’, an ode to Bridget Cleary, killed by her husband in 1895; and ‘The Glitter’, based on the troubled life of writer Jean Rhys. It’s a heavy listen in places, and sometimes feels like it’s just about holding together, but it’s one that rewards repeat listens.
SORCHA RICHARDSON— First Prize Bravery
The debut album from this Irish guitarist/singer, who was mostly based in New York for most of the last decade, arrived in the middle of winter and felt like the soundtrack of summer. It’s vivid, nostalgic, and unadultered pop music. ‘High in the Garden’ has the best chorus on the shortlist and Richardson’s honeyed vocals are a joy to listen to. A criticism? Perhaps it lacks a little personality and originality. Minor quibbles when it sounds this good.
First Prize Bravery sounds effortless and could easily woo the judges.
Coulda been a contender?
As soon as the shortlist for Irish album of year was announced,
social media went into overdrive with a debate about some of the albums that didn’t make the list. These are ten more that easily could have been nominated:
Shookrah — Shookrah
Mango x Mathman — Casual Work
Dermot Kennedy — Without Fear
Hozier — Wasteland, Baby
Anna Mieke — Idle Mind
Talos — Far Out Dust
The Cranberries — In The End
Murder Capital — When I Have Fears
A Lazarus Soul— The D They Put Between The R and L
Tandem Felix — Rom-Com