Feast your ears: The 10 best Irish albums of 2022 so far

Halfway there: The Irish acts who have been making all the running so far this year

And So I Watch You from Afar: Jettison

There was always a danger that Belfast’s And So I Watch You from Afar (ASIWYFA) would shrink into their post-rock instrumental music rather than develop from it, but with their sixth, appropriately titled album, those presumptions are kicked to touch. The basis of what drives their work remains — fast and furious melodies presented with bone-shaking thuds are present and correct. What’s new, or at least different, are additional creative textures such as spoken word (Emma Ruth Rundle, Neil Fallon) and orchestral arrangements (Arco String Quartet). The centrepiece is the title track, an almost 40-minutes long assemblage that mixes the earthiness of pummelling post-rock with the airiness of neoclassical. Repeated listening advised. asiwyfa.com

Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler: For All Our Days that Tear the Heart

Take award-winning actor/singer Jessie Buckley (who for her performance in the West End production of Cabaret won the Laurence Olivier Award for best actress in a musical), acclaimed musician Bernard Butler, notify the world at large that they are very much an Irish unit (Buckley is Kerry through and through; the parents of the former Suede guitarist are Irish) and team the pair up to present a debut album that fuses the best signature qualities of each. On paper it sounds like wishful thinking, but the wonderful songs speak for themselves. Across tracks that contain equal parts grandeur and grace, drama and strength, the durability of Buckley’s voice meshes with Butler’s command of song arrangements. A stun gun of a record. buckleyandbutler.com

CMAT: If My Wife New I’d be Dead

Any danger that CMAT (Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson) and her batch of probing, highly individualistic songs might suffer the indignity of being lumped under the tag “novelty” has surely run aground. Four months in, and her debut album continues to sound fresh and flawless, not least perhaps because of her insightful lyrics, which relate (sometimes in the same song, as one of the standout tracks, Geography Teacher, proves) levels of optimism, despondency, resignation, and concerns about self-image. As an album swaying on life’s swings and roundabouts, CMAT cleverly manages to strike the right, instinctive and determinedly feminine notes through songs that veer from alt.country to perfect pop. cmatbaby.com

Fontaines DC: Skinty Fia

Three albums in three years? Ordinarily you might advise a band to slow down and smell the proverbial coffee but it’s clear that Fontaines DC are on a roll that shows very little sign of coming to a halt. Indeed, the band’s third album is their most adventurous, the songs (notes lead singer and primary lyricist Grian Chatten) “different because we’ve got greater emotional tools”. The devil is in the detail, and from the title track (brilliant lyrics almost overshadowed by shuddering Death in Vegas-style rhythms) to The Couple Across the Way (think Lankum covering Ivor Cutler), the future of this superb band is assured via laser-guided single-mindedness and a willingness — as Samuel Beckett almost wrote — to kick against the pricks. fontainesdc.com


James Vincent McMorrow: The Less I Knew

With three albums under his belt in about a year (2021′s Grapefruit Season, The Less I Knew, and Heavyweight Champion of Dublin 8, which is set for release in autumn), James Vincent McMorrow certainly hasn’t allowed the pandemic blues to seep in. He also hasn’t traded in anxiety levels for anodyne music, as this unusually soothing, sensory and soulful album proves. Everything here pivots around conceding that throughout the past two years people coiled into themselves and are still in the process of unwinding. Unusually, there are no centrepiece songs — the eight tracks are innately at one with each other, and if there are highlights (the title track, Heads Look Like Drums, A Lot to Take) it’s only because they have that extra glint amid the other gems. jamesvmcmorrow.com

Carole Nelson Trio: Night Vision

Jazz pianist Carole Nelson is in her early 60s, and her artistry remains pure and valid. As the title implies, Nelson’s third solo album revolves around what she describes as a solitary “inward spiritual journey” she undertook following a pandemic-induced creative retreat at an artist’s residency in Co Mayo. When she returned to her home in Co Carlow, her environmental and artistic focus centred not only on what lay outside her house but also inside. Balancing acute mindfulness with Columbo-like inspection, Nelson formulated improvisational piano-jazz in the company of regular collaborators Cormac O’Brien (bass) and Dominic Mullan (drums). The outcome is a wonderful mix of query, quietude and clarity. carolenelsonmusic.com

Pillow Queens: Leave the Light On

Who would have thought Pillow Queens would have transformed from scrappy, aspiring songwriters and musicians into a fully charged unit that lays waste to the notion that blind ambition — naive or not — might well be a dead end. Leave the Light On knocks the band’s 2020 debut album, In Waiting, into the proverbial cocked hat, and now, more than five years after they formed, Pillow Queens look into 2023 (and beyond) with a level of creative confidence that has surely surprised even them. The song topics remain edgily confessional, albeit with the added benefit of experience, while the advances in song structures are as skilful as they are self-assured. pillowqueens.com

Stephen James Smith: See No Evil

No one gives a cuss about the struggling artist, right? The long-in-gestation debut album from Dublin spoken word artist Stephen James Smith arrives at a time when even the most resilient of independent spirit is concerned about the future, but Smith’s work here upends that by being reflective and as acutely personal as contemporary poetry can get. Sonically, the album soars throughout via input from Gareth Quinn Redmond (who also produces), whose elegantly embedded soundscapes lift Smith’s delivered words way beyond the ordinary. Other guests (including Jess Kav, Laura Quirke and Cormac Begley) add further textures, but it’s Smith’s poetic prowess that grabs the attention and doesn’t let go. stephenjamessmith.com

Telefís: A hAon

When two mature heads bounce off each other, ideas are bound to emerge, and so it is with this collaboration between producer/musician Jacknife Lee and (sadly, recently passed) Cathal Coughlan. The pair’s debut work hits all of the musical and narrative marks that men of their age, experience and sociocultural/political outlook need to hit. Factor in shared roguish, spontaneously disconcerting approaches, and songs that reference a drab day in Dublin (Picadors), and even more monotonous times in 1970s/1980s Ireland (Stampede), and you have a contemporary and reactionary album rooted in what Lee and Coughlan describe as “corrosive nostalgia”. telefis.bandcamp.com

Thumper: Delusions of Grandeur

You can almost feel the cat clawing its way out of the bag — Dublin band Thumper had been sitting on their debut album for more than two years, waiting irritably for the pandemic to pass and knowing that when it did (or at the very least waned somewhat) they would introduce their songs to people starved of titanium-tough rock music draped with deft, melodic touches. Key influences include Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, Pixies, and so on, but there is also a full-bodied distinctiveness about the lengthier tracks (The Overbite Suite, Strychnine, Topher Grace) that highlights a band of brothers ready to discover the meaning of life as much as dive headlong into the mosh pit. hellothumper.com

Incoming, July-December

HamsandwicH, 49th & Main, Future West, Gavin James, Kodaline, SJ McArdle, James Vincent McMorrow, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Clare Sands, Scullion, Rob Smith, Patrick Stefan, Ciara Treacy, Two Door Cinema Club, Von Liz, Zapho (and many more)

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in popular culture