Gypsies on the Autobahn: Suspended review – Hidden indie-rock heroes get better with every listen
Gypsies on the Autobahn
Universal Music Ireland
If you believed everything that you read in the international music press, you might think that Ireland, and particularly Dublin, is experiencing something of a rock renaissance.
In recent times, bands who have made a high-profile impact – like the irresistible skulking menace of indie-punks Fontaines DC – have inspired multiple thinkpieces about the general state of the genre, and how desperately it required resuscitation.
Of course, anyone with even a passing interest in contemporary Irish music will be aware that the rock scene has never flatlined sufficiently to require a revival – even during the dark era of “men with guitars and sensitive songs” that dominated the charts and the airwaves from the early to mid-noughties.
These days, slipping between the cracks of the Niall Horans, Kodalines and Hoziers of the world, Irish bands lacking a flashy selling point or a quirky angle steadfastly plug away at their craft, releasing impressive records that could really do things – if only they found the right audience.
That was the case for Gypsies on the Autobahn’s 2017 album, Born Brief. The Dublin four-piece’s debut was crammed with clever ideas, heart-on-sleeve lyrics and a general air of real promise; components of a record that really ought to have more successful than it was.
Brothers James and Dan Smith (whose third brother Kevin is currently making waves on the Irish hip-hop scene under his Kojaque alter-ego) formed Gypsies on the Autobahn to compete in a Battle of the Bands competition at their school in 2006. Much of Born Brief’s lyric sheet tackled the tricky topic of their father’s suicide when they were kids, a brave subject matter by any stretch of the imagination.
Two years later, they’re back with another collection of considered indie-rock that gets better with every listen. Frontman and lyricist James Smith’s reedy voice works well with their guitar-led sound, whether it’s on love song Big Blue, the slow-burning U2-esque murmur of Leave it All Behind or the strummed Post-War, which sounds like an old folk ballad reworked for the millennial generation.
On the flipside, the 1980s influence that their debut was studded with remains as potent as ever on many of these songs. The murky bassline of Gonna Be Strong erupts into a fist-punching anthem; Halflight could sit alongside Simple Minds on The Breakfast Club soundtrack, and the stuttering, bombastic jangle of Wash Away is a standout.
A love letter to family
Smith’s lyrical approach has altered somewhat, this time, though. According to him, Born Brief was intended as a kind of inspirational love letter to his family to engender hope and strength through difficult time. These songs are more personal and introverted, as heard on the bewildered Dreamless or the apprehensive unease of Rubicon, while Seventeen is an ode to teenage angst played out over a bustling pop-rock soundtrack. Make You Mine, on the other hand, addresses a (perhaps lost?) loved one, while the electronic burble of Never Forgot takes a philosophical approach as Smith mysteriously declares that “It’s better to be remembered than never forgot”.
If there is a fault with Suspended, perhaps it’s Gypsies on the Autobahn’s tendency to draw from a musical palette that’s not quite as varied as it could be. There are several great songs here, but none of them quite take full flight to be deemed outstanding.
It means that they may be destined to remain hidden heroes while bands like the dreary Kodaline dominate the charts, but then again, there are worse fates in music.