Robocobra Quartet: Living Isn’t Easy — The outer limits of anti-capitalist Irish jazz

Chris Ryan’s Belfast collective have created a proper concept album about modern anxieties

Living Isn’t Easy
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Artist: Robocobra Quartet
Genre: Jazz
Label: First Taste Records

Thank God for Robocobra Quartet. If they didn’t exist, Irish jazz would have to invent them. Every scene needs its outer limits defined and explored, and for the past decade, drummer Chris Ryan’s ever-shifting Belfast collective have been gamely manning the frontier where jazz and improv meet post-punk, art rock and revolutionary politics.

Their 2016 debut, Music for all Occasions, was a liberating blast of drums, bass and horns (guitars are not allowed in the Robocobra universe) that refracted Mingus and Zappa through a Black Flag prism, and the follow-up, 2018′s Plays Hard to Get, expanded their palette further in the studio.

Now their third, Living Isn’t Easy, is a proper concept album, a suite of connected sound pictures about the anxieties of modern living that weave Ryan’s spoken-word narrations through layers of groove and horns and spacey synths. Wellness, the album’s second track, was released as a single in April and, while it didn’t exactly trouble the upper reaches of the pop charts, it’s verbatim reading of facile health tips from a magazine article becomes an arch satire on the modern cult of self-actualisation.

Beneath the situationist critique, there’s grooves and horns and solos, particularly on the album’s centrepiece, Chromo Sud, that may have Robocobra accused of being, you know, a jazz band, but Living Isn’t Easy probably stands up best as a critique of late capitalism. And God knows we need some of that.

Cormac Larkin

Cormac Larkin

Cormac Larkin, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a musician, writer and director