There is nothing on the horizon to tell us that the formidable ongoing creativity and appeal of Fontaines D.C. is diminishing: it is written loud and clear and with a virtually indestructible ballpoint pen that whatever they are doing, they are doing it right. In this year’s Ticket critics’ lists, the band nabbed four top spots: Best Irish Album (Skinty Fia), Best Irish Song (I Love You), Best Irish Group, and Best Gig (at the Iveagh Gardens).
There is little doubt, also, that another Irish group is threatening (politely, of course) Fontaines D.C. for supremacy, and that band is Pillow Queens, who were pipped at the post in the Best Irish Album (Leave the Light On) and Best Group lists.
Another observation? Gilla Band featured prominently: Best Album (Most Normal), Best Song (Eight Fivers) and Best Group. The data tells us that guitar bands aren’t going away anytime soon, but then why would they when they are of the calibre of the three highly distinctive aforementioned acts – not forgetting Dundalk’s Just Mustard, who also featured on the lists for Best Irish Album (Heart Under), Best Irish Song (Still) and Best Irish Group.
Perhaps the most poignant entry into two of these lists, however, is Telefís, the spirited, spiky duo of producer Garrett ‘Jacknife’ Lee and ex-Microdisney singer and songwriter Cathal Coughlan (who died earlier this year). Coughlan would have, quite likely, emitted a cautionary Corkonian chuckle at being featured in the Best Irish Album list (a hAon, which he described as “theocratic electropop from the Irish diaspora”) and Best Irish Group.
It is, perhaps, not just a measure of the man’s talent (enduring, insightful and questioning to the end) but also his ever-prescient nature that Telefís featured so highly. And there’s the rub: as one of our Best of 2022 critics, Mick Heaney, noted: “he went out on a creative high, but that’s little consolation.”
Other outliers made their presence felt, notably Dundalk’s Mary Wallopers, who placed high in Best Irish Song (Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice) and Best Irish Group. Ditto the duo of Jesse Buckley and Bernard Butler in Best Irish Album (For All Our Days That Tear the Heart) and Best Irish Song (The Eagle & the Dove). Can we describe CMAT as an outlier? Perhaps not, but nonetheless Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson featured strongly on three lists – Best Irish Album (If My Wife New I’d be Dead), Best Irish Song (I Don’t Really Care for You), and Best Irish Solo Act.
Unusually, while Irish hip-hop/R&B/electro acts (including Denise Chaila, Aby Coulibaly, Narolane, Biig Piig, Sello, Kormac, Bicep, A92) figure across the lists, the votes didn’t fall their way to ensure a Top 10 placing.
Not so with that long-established constituent element of the Irish music industry: the lone singer-songwriter. Of that community, take a bow and a curtsy, Aoife Nessa Frances, who appeared in three lists: Best Irish Album (Protector), Best Irish Song (Emptiness Follows) and Best Irish Solo Act. Other doughty troubadours that featured include Sorcha Richardson, Paddy Hanna and John Francis Flynn, but it was Anna Mieke who nabbed the top spot of Best Irish Solo Act.
Of course, this was the year when festivals and gigs returned with a vengeance, yet aside from Fontaines D.C. (Iveagh Gardens) and Bono’s book reading-cum-solo show (3Olympia theatre), all of the Best Gig placings went to international acts (with Damon Albarn nabbing two spots, one for his solo show at NCH, and the other as the de facto leader of Gorillaz at 3Arena). Festivals?
Ironically, the top festival winner was indoors, while the remaining four on the list focus on the boutique side of events. The return and impact of Ireland’s largest music festival, Electric Picnic? Garth Brooks’ numerous gigs at Croke Park? Neither gets a look-in.
Any more for any more? In the International lists, Kendrick Lamar aced it – Best Album (Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers), Best Song (N95) and very close to the top in Best Solo Act. Radiohead offshoot, The Smile, nudged in all the right places – Best Album (A Light for Attracting Attention) and Best Group – while Björk won Best Solo Act and placed high in Best Album (Fossora).
Beyoncé strutted her way into three lists: Best Album (Renaissance), Best Song (Break My Soul), and Best Solo Act. In the Best Music Books list, only two are Irish-connected: Bono’s Surrender, and This Woman’s Work, co-edited by Sinéad Gleeson and Kim Gordon. Best Artist Comeback is Joni Mitchell (damn right), while the Best Music Film/Documentary is Nothing Compares, Kathryn Ferguson’s substantial exploration of a particular time in the life of Sinéad O’Connor.
So where are we in 2022? The truth is that while Irish music is in ridiculously rude health, Irish musicians are, and will be for some time, in an anxious state of flux because many of them can no longer afford to live here (several of the artists on the Best Irish Album and Best Irish Song lists have left Ireland in the past 18 months) and most that choose to can barely survive on just playing music.
The rapid flow of pandemic-related funding that has been crucial to artists (and also to event organisers) will slow down to a trickle in 2023. Anecdotal evidence shows that gigs aren’t as enthusiastically attended as they were in pre-Covid days, which points to a blend of caution (which could diminish over time) and selected budgetary decisions (a constant for the foreseeable future, surely).
Keep calm and carry on, you say? Well, yes, fine – but aside from a handful of (talent notwithstanding) the lucky ones, for how long can our musicians and artists keep doing that?
Best Irish Album
1: Skinty Fia, by Fontaines D.C.
2: Leave the Light On, by Pillow Queens
3: a hAon, by Telefís
4: Protector, by Aoife Nessa Frances
5: Most Normal, by Gilla Band
6: Smiling Like an Idiot, by Sorcha Richardson
7: For All Our Days that Tear the Heart, by Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler
8: Imagine I’m Hoping, by Paddy Hanna
9: Heart Under, by Just Mustard
10. If My Wife New I’d Be Dead, by CMAT
Best Irish Song
1: I Love You, by Fontaines DC
2: Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice, by Mary Wallopers
4: Emptiness Follows, by Aoife Nessa Frances
5: Eight Fivers, by Gilla Band
6: Shitshow, by Ailbhe Reddy
7: Boots, by Pretty Happy
8: New York Sidewalk, by Paddy Hanna
9: The Eagle & the Dove, by Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler
10: Still, by Just Mustard
Best Irish Act/Solo
1: Anna Mieke
2: John Francis Flynn
4: Sorcha Richardson
5: Denise Chaila
6: Aoife Nessa Frances
8: Paddy Hanna
9: Ailbhe Reddy
10: David Keenan
Best Irish Group
1: Fontaines D.C.
2: Pillow Queens
3: Gilla Band
4: Mary Wallopers
7: Just Mustard
8: Pretty Happy
9: And So I Watch You From Afar
Best International Album
1: Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, by Kendrick Lamar
2: Renaissance, by Beyoncé
3: Big Time, by Angel Olsen
4: A Light for Attracting Attention, by The Smile
5: Fossora, by Björk
6: Autofiction, by Suede
7: Chloë and the Next 20th Century, by Father John Misty
8: Stumpwork, by Dry Cleaning
9: Wet Leg, by Wet Leg
10: And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, by Weyes Blood
Best International Song
1: About Damn Time, by Lizzo
2: N95, by Kendrick Lamar
3: As It Was, by Harry Styles
4: abcdefu, by Gayle
5: Anti-Hero, by Taylor Swift
6: Break My Soul, by Beyoncé
7: One and Only, by Gabriels
8: Sweetest Pie, by Megan Thee Stallion & Dua Lipa
9: Moderation, by Cate Le Bon
10: Through the Echoes, by Paolo Nutini
Best International Act/Solo
2: Kendrick Lamar
3: Taylor Swift
5: Angel Olsen
6: Harry Styles
7: Weyes Blood
8: Richard Dawson
9: Cate Le Bon
10: Loraine James
Best International Act/Group
1: Arctic Monkeys
2: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
3: Wet Leg
4: The Smile
8: Dry Cleaning
10: Let’s Eat Grandma
1: Fontaines D.C., Iveagh Gardens
2: Kendrick Lamar, 3Arena
3: Damon Albarn, National Concert Hall
4: Bob Dylan, 3Arena
5: Sharon Van Etten, Vicar Street
6: Gorillaz, 3Arena
7: Low, Vicar Street
8: Pavement, Vicar Street
9: Bono, 3Olympia
10: Rina Sawayama, 3Olympia
1: Haunted Dancefloor, Dublin (NCH)
2: Altogether Now, Waterford
3: Body & Soul, Westmeath
4: Another Love Story, Meath
5: Drop Everything, Inis Oírr
Best Music Books
1: Faith, Hope and Carnage, by Nick Cave, Sean O’Hagan
2: This Woman’s Work, edited by Sinéad Gleeson and Kim Gordon
3: Good Pop, Bad Pop – An Inventory, by Jarvis Cocker
4: The Sound of Being Human, by Jude Rogers
5: Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me From Success, by Miki Berenyi
6: Verse, Chorus, Monster!, by Graham Coxon
7: Surrender, by Bono
8: Bodies: Life & Death in Music, by Ian Winwood
9: Stories I Might Regret Telling You, by Martha Wainwright
10: The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond, by Chris Blackwell and Paul Morley
Best Artist Comeback
1: Joni Mitchell
2: Kate Bush
3: Bob Dylan
5: William Orbit
Best Music Film/Documentary
1: Nothing Compares
2: Moonage Daydream
3: Trainwreck: Woodstock ‘99
4: Selena Gomez – My Mind and Me
1: White Lotus
2: Bad Sisters
3: Glastonbury (BBC coverage)
5: Conversations with Friends
6: The Bear
7: Derry Girls
8: Other Voices
10: Babylon Berlin
Best Of 2022 compiled from lists by Joe Breen, Tony Clayton-Lea, Mick Heaney, Siobhan Kane, Hugh Linehan, Una Mullally, Lauren Murphy, Siobhan Long, Ed Power, Eamon Sweeney.
Critics’ Top 5s in Trad, Jazz, Classical and Roots
1. Cormac Begley: B
2. Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and the Irish Chamber Orchestra: Róisín Reimagined
3. Navá: Toranj
4. Clare Sands: Clare Sands
5. Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin: The Deepest Breath
2022 was a revealing year. As artists emerged from the lockdown like butterflies from their chrysalises, a tsunami of creative energy erupted, transported on a raft of fresh and bold ideas. Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s melding of big songs of the tradition with glorious arrangements from the Irish Chamber Orchestra in the colossus Róisín Reimagined was joyous. At the other end of the spectrum was Cormac Begley’s flinty and fiery concertina album, B. Along the way, sean-nós found fresh footing in the capable voices of Inni-K and Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin. And in between the cracks lurked the finely honed melodies of Scullion, with a sparkling new album (Time Has Made a Change in Me), while Lankum’s Ian Lynch (under the moniker One Leg One Eye) rattled preconceptions of what tradition and folk really is on his album And Take the Black Worm with Me. A damn fine vintage, all told.
1. Roamer: Lost Bees
2. Aoife Doyle: Infinitely Clear
3. Neil Ó Lochlainn & Cuar: Umhaill
4. Robocobra Quartet: Living Isn’t Easy
5. ÄTSCH: ÄTSCH III
The album may be on the endangered list in these times of ‘free’ streamed ephemera, but creative musicians are still finding relevance in the form: guitarist Matthias Winkler’s ÄTSCH have stayed together long enough to develop their own bright, optimistic sound, which was captured on their third release; arch Belfast situationists Robocobra Quartet, led by drummer Chris Ryan, loosed their raucous anti-capitalist salvo on an unsuspecting world (or at least that enlightened portion of it that listens to Robocobra); Galway bassist and composer Neil Ó Lochlainn continued to navigate the intersections between the Irish tradition and the metropolitan avant-garde; vocalist and songwriter Aoife Doyle wowed jazzers and civilians alike with her pitch perfect collection of new songs; but top of the heap was undoubtedly the long-awaited first album from peripatetic Irish supergroup Roamer, as good an argument for the continued vitality of the album form as you’ll find.
1: John Jenkins: Four-Part Consorts – Phantasm (Linn Records CKD 677)
2: Chiaroscuro Quartet: Beethoven String Quartets, Op. 18 Nos 4-6, (BIS BIS-2498)
3: César Franck Complete Orchestral Works: Orchestre Philiharmonique Royal de Liège (Fuga Libera FUG 791)
4: Totemic: Nathan Sherman (viola), Alex Petcu (percussion) (Ergodos ER37)
5: Vivaldi Les 4 Saisons; Chevalier de Saint-George Concertos: Renaud Capuçon, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne (Erato 5419718972)
When I was still at school, a neighbour, a professional musician of extremely conservative taste, posed me a question: weren’t we going to run out of musical material given how many melodies and harmonies had been used already? For some reason – probably the nature of musical training – he didn’t factor in rhythm at all, though rhythm makes music from Jingle Bells to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony memorable in a way that the raw sequence of pitches just can’t. I doubt that were he still alive he would have known much of the music on the albums I’ve covered this year. Beethoven, Stravinsky, and César Franck, yes. But Franck’s complete orchestral music or violin concertos by Chevalier de Saint-George (a black composer who managed to make it in the 18th century), never. And he probably would have been surprised to see how many women featured – the albums included works by Amy Beach, Linda Buckley, Cécile Chaminade, Rhona Clarke, Áine Mallon, Fanny Mendelssohn, Kate Moore and Clara Schumann. Classical music always was a big tent. And that tent is getting ever more inclusive.
1: Angel Olsen: Big Time
2: Calexico: El Mirador
3: Bill Callahan: YTILAER
4: Willie Nelson: A Beautiful Time
5: Big Thief: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Sometimes music resonates beyond the personal. The darkness and light of Angel Olsen’s country-suffused Big Time was an apt soundtrack for a telling year. Her grief at the death of her parents is set against her joy at coming out as gay in a suite of intense songs steeped in reflection and resolution, her voice a well of swirling emotions. There were other contenders: Willy Nelson’s life-affirming A Beautiful Time made light of his 89 years; Bill Callahan’s YTILAER whispered newfound insight at the joy of being alive; Big Thief mined mystery and occasionally magic on Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You; Calexico got back in the border groove with El Mirador. A new bluegrass star was revealed in Molly Tuttle’s Crooked Garden, while honourable mentions go to Plains’ I Walked With You a Ways, Joan Shelley’s The Spur, the wonderful Christian Lee Hutson’s Quitters, and our own Ye Vagabonds’ Nine
Musicians on their Best Albums of 2022
Síomha: Infinite Space – A mammoth album with deeply confident songwriting, Síomha Brock has melded Irish ancestry into the cool international modern. Her feckless ambition is delivered with aching perfection, making this album a round, excellent listen from start to finish.
Stephen James Smith: See No Evil – The poetry and raw emotional soundscape are a perfect marriage. I can feel myself walking wet streets, in trysts with imagined strangers. I smell the moment, I can hear the moment. My mind runs vividly with this album in a way that music often doesn’t do for me. F**king brilliant.
Paul Brady: Maybe So – Paul is just better every time, which is what I always look forward to. On this album, he references current affairs with a real open heart and vulnerability in his lyrics. With his well-oiled and heartbreakingly fragile vocal performances, and the power of the instrumentals, he is a man forever young, forever in love with life and forever moving forward.
.foundation (Jake Carter): The Azure Sun Suite – The Azure Sun Suite began as an accompanying soundtrack to a visual narrative, a simulation game called Space Engine. The album then evolved from its creator Jake Carter (aka .foundation), expanding on the theme with all the awe and bliss that one might expect from travelling through the cosmos from the comfort of your sofa and a good pair of headphones.
Bedroom: Naal – Adam London and Dave Mantel have produced one of the most calming, uplifting ambient drone albums I’ve ever heard. Spotify notified me recently that I had played their album over 100 times, and still I cannot remember or whistle one musical passage or melody. I’ve been filling the air with their particular audio perfume all year, when reading, writing, cleaning, driving, walking, shopping – basically everything!
Taylor Deupree: Somi – Taylor Deupree is a minimalist electronic and acoustic ambient artist from the US who has been incredibly prolific in his career, creating various collections of calming and unobtrusive audio backdrops that blend seamlessly into everyday ambient life. It’s as though he has the ability to tune sounds we hear every day into a unified scale. This album is one of the finest examples of that.
Kid Cudi: Entergalactic – Ahhhh, Travis Scott did it again. He painted a picture of my late teenage years so perfectly and now he’s painting my late twenties. It’s like I’m coming full circle, I love Kid Cudi so much and the animation to go with Entergalactic is incredible. What a genius.
Fatoumata Diawara: Maliba – Fatoumata Diawara is a spiritual warrior and has this incredible presence that can be felt in her music and live shows. Her music feels like world peace to me, and like Kid Cudi she just has this ability to make you feel seen. Also, thrown into her songs are a few Arabic words, which I love to hear.
Kendrick Lamar: Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers – Kendrick’s voice is so iconic I don’t even know where to start. From making his own label to forming a collective and inspiring other artists to do the same, he is also one of these musical leaders who will go down in history. Listen and ENJOY!
Sudan Archives: Natural Brown Prom Queen – A multi-instrumentalist with a degree in ethnomusicology, Brittany Denise Parks spoils us with a flowing, dirty, joyful journey combining masterful electronic music production with subtle references to Sudanese and Irish fiddle music. It all combines to create a uniquely cohesive collage that grooves so hard it makes me feel good to be alive.
Björk: Fossora – Bjork continues to grace us with the fruits of her artistic development and Fossora finds her no less willing to explore the complicated terrain of human compulsion, which is set to an almost impossibly brilliant fusion of fragmentary choral harmonies, hard-hitting electronics and cinematic orchestral elements. Brilliant, thought-provoking and utterly magical.
Jape: 9K HI, Vol 1 – Although conceived as a kind of musical love letter to a particular time and place in Richie Egan’s life, this album has something strangely timeless about it. Within its low-bit-rate digital reference points and allusions to the beautifully frenzied collective excitement of vintage rave culture, there is a careful tenderness in every tone presented here. A particularly beautiful headphone experience with a lot of heart.