Jape: Sentinel review - understated, unassuming and unique genius
Richard Egan has been an impressive force in Irish music since the 1990s. Before forming instrumental insurrectionists The Redneck Manifesto in 1998, he served stints in Black Belt Jones and Sir Killalot, and has moonlighted as a gun for hire with David Kitt and Villagers. Jape was never a side-project, but a full-blooded alternative pop entity in its own right.
Sentinel is the sixth Jape album. Two of his long-players have bagged the Choice Music Prize: Ritual in 2006, and Ocean of Frequency in 2011. Bizarrely, Egan’s status as the only artist to win the Choice twice means his UK equivalent is PJ Harvey with her double Mercury gongs.
Egan reveals that these songs were written during “early mornings of no thought” when his inspiration consisted of “whatever the dreams left out on their doorsteps for me”. On the opening title track, he plays a gorgeous meditative acoustic guitar and gently sings, “while we are here we are all stumbling” and “one of these days they’ll find me out so I might as well protect me”, while musing on the transformative power of small acts of kindness.
“Mornings taught me about real peace, supplying ways to renew wonder into my days,” Egan writes in a brief press release for Sentinel. “Finally embracing irrelevance with love. Looking into the mirror and thinking, ‘How long can I ignore this poor prick before I have to answer him?’”
While born out of pared down simplicity, Sentinel is his most sophisticated and advanced sounding record yet, full of emotion and empathy, which is even infused into a track called Instrumental for the Lonely. I Want to Get it Right is sublime, featuring a tingling piano and a heartbreakingly beautiful melody.
Sentinel was mixed in Studio Mollan in Egan’s hometown of Malmo by Emil Isaksson, and mastered in Sterling Sound in New York by Steve Fallone, who has sprinkled sonic fairy dust on records by The National, Hozier, J Mascis, The Breeders, Interpol, David Byrne, Yo La Tengo, The War on Drugs, and Arcade Fire, to name just a few in recent years.
I Was Wrong sounds a little like Villagers meets Bon Iver, as Egan extracts more mystery and depth from his voice via a vocoder. The second half of The Sea Shade contains some blissful, tender and haunting moments. Willing to Fail is an upbeat variation on Samuel Beckett’s famous adage of trying again, failing again, and failing better. “I keep an eye on where I’m going, I keep an eye on who I am,” Egan sings. “When it gets down to it, I’m willing to fail.”
A track called Harrington Street, named after the pretty thoroughfare in Portobello in Dublin which boasts some remarkable oriel windows before it ends at South Circular Road, offers a gorgeous parting glass. Sentinel concludes with a spooky refrain from Egan, a spaced out acoustic guitar, and lyrics about an encounter in the smoking area of Leonard’s Corner pub, providing the perfect coda for a moving, minimal and elegant album. Egan has found peace in the writing process and confronting his visage, thoughts and fears in the cold light of a morning mirror. Amidst the self-deprecation and self-discovery, he confesses he is confiding in the listener. “It is a private record and I hope you can share in its privacy,” he says.
The privilege is all ours. Richard Egan is one of the finest Irish musicians of the past 20 years. Sentinel is another reminder of his understated, unassuming and unique genius.