Eight great under-appreciated Irish albums of 2016
It's been a fantastic year for Irish music, but some of it may have passed you by. Now is the time to catch up with the likes of Jealous of The Birds and Brigid Mae Power
Jealous of The Birds: Armagh's Naomi Hamilton
Albums go under the radar for many reasons, a lack of planning; poor timing (don't release an album in December folks), crowded out by a surprise global release, a crowded market (it's easy to get lost online) or a lack of visibility (no live dates or social media), media (a general lack of media outlets for music) or band fatigue. On the listener side, a busy life may been golden listening opportunities lost. Here are ten suggestions for albums which may have slipped you by, which are very worthy of more attention.
Funeral Suits - Islands Apart
Four years is a long time. Funeral Suits' debut album showcased a band on the up, with production hand of Stephen Street guiding them. Talk of an EP became a second album, along with the news that the band were to call it a day came with unclear reasoning but it definitely contributed to that second album being released with little fanfare, an indication of the band's dissolving status. It doesn't appear that the band will play live in the public arena which is a pity as the superbly produced 11-track album (Street was involved) has a large dynamic range, drawing on Tears For Fears-style '80s pop (Tree Of Life), big rhythmic indie electronica (The Way Back) and atmospheric songwriting (Crowded Out).
Jealous of The Birds - Parma Violets
Armagh's Naomi Hamilton debut opens with the best Irish song featuring whistling in recent memory and continues from that pretty little folk ditty with an assured collection of songs that don't stay put, from taut indie-rock (Russian Doll), to woozy pop - “I couldn't get any more hipster if I tried” (Tonight I Feel Like Kafka) to crunched guitars (Purple Octopus). It's Hamilton's songwriting prowess that leaves the longest impression.
J Cowhie - Veil
Formerly operational under the name Goodtime John, John Cowhie is a Swedish-based Irishman. Veil was released digitally (and on cassette) in March and is a little gem of a release that sounds even more suitable for a festive season. Eight songs of warm textured songwriting informed by artists like Paul McCartney, Billy Fay, JJ Cale and branches of folk, soul, electronic and ambient music.
IMLÉ - IMLÉ
There's a groundswell of Gaeilge-lead bands around the country doing fresh things with the language and IMLÉ are at the forefront of that. Featuring three vocalists of different shades: singer Fergal Moloney, punk poet-style Marcus Mac Conghail’s and rapper MC Muipéad, their self-titled debut album mixes meditative folk, rock and rap styles in our native tongue to impressive effect. A breath of fresh Éire.
Ryan Vail - For Every Silence
This Derry musician's debut takes its source of inspiration from a family piano made in 1927 owned by his wife's family, recently restored and given a central role in the recording of For Every Silence. The album's styles encompasses neo-classical, electronic and ambient with Vail's whispered vocals. Best Boy Grip joins him on Above The White Wash for a powerful siren vocal, Ryan's wife Katie plays flute, Rachael Boyd plays violin, Seattle poet Hexxr and Katie's uncle, Joe Cosgrove, the original owner of the piano, a prominent doctor and peace campaigner is sampled on the electronic Wounds bringing a neat sense of history and modernity at once.
Jack O’Rourke - Dreamcatcher
This Cork singer-songwriter has certainly found an audience for his piano-lead music but one could imagine a songwriter whose songs sound like Bowie and Queen on occasion would be the kind of artist that would pique the interest of much more. O'Rourke's voice is even more impressive in the flesh but you get a good impression of his classic singing voice on ballads like Silence and the strident On The Downlow.
Brigid Mae Power - Brigid Mae Power
This Galway musician harks back to the alt-folk of yore. Produced by singer-songwriter Peter Broderick in Portland, her second album release through US label Tompkins Square leaves plenty of space for Power's moving whispy voice to fill, while piano, organ or atmospheric synthesizer drone in reverbed support. The impression is left of a delicate harmonic release pushing and pulling between distance and intimacy.
Cinema - A Night Train to Budapest
The young Kildare bedroom producer Peter Fleming produced a fine debut of instrumental electronica with little fanfare earlier this year. While his release plan wasn't definitive, the five-track, 40 minute album definitely is. The songs here nod to Scandinavian cosmic disco and bright dance music with Balearic synth chords, guitar flourishes and a keen sense of rhythmic tension.