The seeds of For Those I Love’s debut album were sown prior to the untimely 2018 death of Dublin poet Paul Curran, but his presence looms large on this remarkable album.
The musical project of musician and visual artist David Balfe (30) – Curran’s best friend and former bandmate in Burnt Out – is a stark reflection of grief and pain in the wake of suicide that is almost distressing in its brutal honesty. Music acted as Balfe’s lifeboat through the tidal waves of mourning, and the nine tracks that comprise For Those I Love act as both a tribute to and a celebration of his friend’s life.
It’s also a document of a group of young men growing up in the Dublin suburb of Coolock, and the trials and tribulations that come with a working-class existence – where you feel disenfranchised and underrepresented at every turn. Balfe takes these weighty topics and spins them into relatable vignettes that recount moments from his past with a poignancy but never sentimentality.
These spoken-word pieces, written in Dublin vernacular, are set against glitchy electronic soundtracks that occasionally bloom into 1990s rave tunes or celebratory house music numbers. There are samples of artists from Smokey Robinson to Jackson C Frank; the snippets of phone recordings and WhatsApp voice notes dotted throughout also give them an added resonance and humanity; this is no abstract concept album about life and death.
On Top Scheme, Balfe rails against both society’s failings and his personal ones, denouncing the lack of affordable mental health support. Birthday/The Pain is a grim recollection of seeing a murder victim dumped on his road at the age of six, while To Have You notes how “there’s not a lot of steps between peace and utter misery when you’re 17 and all you have is love and dreams”. The Streets – referenced several times on this record – are an obvious touchpoint, but Mike Skinner was never this emotionally exposed.
Perhaps what really sets these songs apart is Balfe’s delivery. While some tracks seethe with a determined anger, others ache with a tenderness and vulnerabilty. The title track is touching in its heartbroken eloquence. The Myth/I Don’t sees Balfe admit how “everything has lost its colour/ I only feel good when I’m drunk.” There is no room for grandstanding here; just compelling, raw sincerity.
Balfe throws himself into these songs wholeheartedly, teeth gritted as he runs the gamut of anger, pain, nostalgia and sadness. As a result, he has made not only a powerful record but a potentially important one.