Aoife Nessa Frances - Protector review: Deeply rich second album

Artist successfully delivers her beautiful, assured vision

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Artist: Aoife Nessa Frances
Label: Partisan

In spring 2020, when much of the world closed its doors, Aoife McCarthy, known professionally as Aoife Nessa Frances, retreated to Co Clare, towards stillness and self-discovery. It became a place of, and for, transformation, a theme that permeates this, her deeply rich second album, Protector.

With much of the recording taking place in Co Kerry with producer and musician (keys, bass, synth, clarinet) Brendan Jenkinson and drummer Brendan Doherty, the eight songs sit within a sense of contemplative intimacy, further amplified by Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh on strings, Conor O’Brien on brass, and Méabh McKenna on harp.

That sense of intimacy is woven on the glassy-sounding guitars on Way to Say Goodbye, a song about how fear can stop you letting a relationship go. It speaks to a sense of catharsis and optimism, as enchanting brass dances on top of a raggle-taggle Van Dyke Parks-like piano, it is there in the measured pacing of This Still Life, with its softness and patience, bringing to mind Devotion-era Beach House.

Emptiness Follows is a highlight, with its gracefulness underpinning lyrics about friends drifting apart – the gorgeous harp adding sublime texture to an almost meditative composition, providing an elegant sweep, complementing playful brass and sloping drums. It is a wild garden of a song, with hidden nooks that elevate and surprise. Only Child is a luscious and complete universe, where sensuous drums meet harp in dialogue – a dialogue that sounds like a folk song finding its way through a sonic squall, like Dirty Three meeting Serge Gainsbourg at some low-lit bar.


Chariot is perhaps the core of the record, its beating heart – with a deft exploration of the bonds of family and friendships, a focus that reveals itself slowly, surely, mirroring the steadying nourishment such bonds can bring. McCarthy’s vocal really shines here, as her voice dances lightly, becoming a kind of daughter of the air.

Back to Earth pares things back, with its delicate guitar that meets the dreamy world of Soft Lines, a song about the illusion that is idealised love – it is reminiscent of early Wye Oak, with its mysterious sonic wash, and strung-out peaceful beauty.

There is something almost nostalgic about Day Out of Time in its wistfulness, referring us to that feeling of being off-course, off-kilter, maybe a day late, possibly a day early. But it is also about making your own way, with lovely brass tugging at the melody, reminding us what this has all been about. Details like this help to amplify McCarthy’s vision – a beautiful, assured vision that sees her becoming the “protector” of her own path, just as it should be.

Siobhán Kane

Siobhán Kane is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture