St James’ Church, Dingle
There are many things that are hard to believe about Øxn’s performance at St James’ Church in Dingle, Co Kerry. First, that musicians as diverse and important as Katie Kim, John “Spud” Murphy, Radie Peat and Eleanor Myler have formed a band. Second, there’s yet another alternative-folk album – their debut record, Cyrm – drawing more praise and attention for Ireland’s contemporary folk and traditional music scene. Third, Peat, the multi-instrumentalist and singer, of Lankum, and Murphy, Lankum’s producer, have somehow found time to be part of the creation of two of the best albums released this year. Fourth, that they have become the first new signing in 18 years to the iconic Claddagh Records label. And, fifth, this gig in Dingle is, incredibly, just Øxn’s fourth live performance.
Such are the length of Øxn’s songs – the closing track on their six-song album runs to almost 13 minutes – that the audience is treated to just four tonight: The Trees They Do Grow High, Cruel Mother, The Feast, and Love Henry. Before they embark there are some deep breaths, and a slight sense of nervousness, before that gives way to the weaving of a musical tapestry that feels equal parts new and ancient.
The sonic chapters that unfold are compelling. Cruel Mother curls and switches towards its conclusion, with transfixing percussion from Myler, as Peat’s vocal pulls the rhythm through to its end. Peat introduces The Feast as “a Katie Kim original” that she says she used to listen to daily. Øxn’s capacity to allow these songs to evolve tentatively, change direction, collapse and rebuild is reminiscent of the flow of a traditional-music session filtered through the musical aesthetic of Low, Radiohead and Mono.
The band’s capacity to exercise constraint, and explore expanses within that constraint, demonstrates a deep knowledge of sound, minimalism, traditional music and so much more, creating a sort of tantric, meditative immersion for the audience. Superlatives to describe Peat’s talent in particular are in danger of running out. Her capacity for creative evolution is inspiring. Even leaving aside her spectacular voice, her switches from electric guitar to mellotron, to accordion, create a perfect connection to Kim’s keys and vocals. All of this talent, across the band, is worn with little ego and with an inviting sense of exploration.
The specificity of the music, the love of murder ballads, the dedication to urging this beautiful oddity into the air on a freezing night is fascinating. It is also strangely tender and moving. This band is ploughing extremely interesting earth. Who knows what they’ll dig up as they continue?