Fontaines DC – Skinty Fia: We’re not in Dublin any more

What might be seen as the concluding part of a trilogy reveals a band maturing nicely

Skinty Fia
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Artist: Fontaines D.C.
Genre: Alternative
Label: Partisan Records

The release of three albums in the space of as many years is either a curse or a blessing – you might be viewed as either prolific or promiscuous – but Fontaines DC have charted such a creative, instinctive route since the release of their debut, Dogrel, in April 2019 that the best way to receive them is with open arms while making sure your wallet is zipped into an inner pocket. We use the mugger reference deliberately: across three albums the Irish musicians have begged, borrowed and stolen from various cultures they remain locked into. Unlike some thieves, however, they give back almost as much as they take.

Perception is all. Viewed with a cynical eye, Fontaines DC take bits of The Fall and Joy Division, Irish literature and Dublinese, naivety and emotional shortcomings, and throw them back into your face without apology. Viewed with some faith – you gotta have faith, right? – the band intuitively piggyback on post-punk, run riot over a growing list of literary figures and shore up their immaturity with real-life experience. In other words, if Dogrel was all about Dublin and 2020's A Hero's Death was written on a tour bus, then Skinty Fia is firmly located in London. "We've now found homes, places to live, and nurtured our relationships," singer and lyricist Grian Chatten is quoted in the album's accompanying press release. "The songs are different because we've got greater emotional tools."

Skinty Fia is all about those superior responsive mechanisms and as such seems as much a final part of a trilogy as anything else. The opening track couldn’t be any more perfect an example of this – In ár gCroíthe go Deo (In Our Hearts Forever) arrives with a rumbling bassline and choral chants, a song based on a dying Irish woman’s wish to have the Gaelic words inscribed on her gravestone but who was (initially) refused on the grounds that the Irish language was “confrontational”. The groove-laden title track (translated as “damnation of the deer”, but used here as a rural Irish profanity) is a Death in Vegas-influenced song that contains some of Chatten’s best lyrics to date.

Perhaps the most welcoming track is The Couple Across the Way, which is equal parts skeletal ballad and the embodiment of Chatten’s grasp of the band’s collective “greater emotional tools”. Delivered with just voice and accordion, the song is Ivor Cutler or Robert Wyatt by way of Lankum, and points to one of many ways in which Fontaines DC could and should venture next. New beginnings beckon because they have to. Make way.

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea

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