Telefís – A hAon: Theocratic electropop from the Irish diaspora

Cathal Coughlan and Jacknife Lee release a surreal concept album of sorts

A hAon
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Artist: Telefís
Genre: Alternative
Label: 251 Records

You've a better chance of picking the winning lottery numbers than accurately second guessing what Cathal Coughlan will get up to next. Following Microdisney's reunion shows in the Barbican and National Concert Hall in 2018, you'd assume he might rekindle The Fatima Mansions, Coughlan's other prominent art-rock project that was active from 1988 to 1995. Now he's gone off and acquired another partner in crime to add to Luke Haines and the late Sean Hughes as eye-catching collaborators over the years.

Before working with Snow Patrol, REM and U2, Jacknife Lee was a member of 1990s guitar outfits Thee Amazing Colossal Men and Compulsion. This latest project isn't what you'd expect from either party, but this surreal concept album of sorts about Irish television simply couldn't have been made by anybody else.

It comes perfectly timed, most likely by accident rather than design, with the recent 60th anniversary of Telefís Éireann’s first broadcast. Usually the appropriation of Irish television in popular culture is done with the primary motivation of being nostalgic and laying on the kitsch, such as the big-beat version of The Late Late Show theme tune that signalled the end of the Gay Byrne era in the late 1990s. Bosco, Wanderly Wagon, and The Den are all comforting reminders of so many’s people’s childhood. But Telefís is more like a demented goblin whispering and ranting into your ear than any cuddly character.

Weirdness and dysfunction

The duo describe their music as "theocratic electropop from the Irish diaspora". It throws its net into the banal weirdness and dysfunction of 20th-century official Ireland, a country striving to be modern while shackled to the past by its clergy and religious symbolism. After a brief introduction on Seo É Glór Na Teilifíse, it's straight down to business on Mr Imposter. "I know what you're thinking," Coughlan sings. "There's that guy who tried to poison me. Nonsense, I'm from your childhood. Always repping Opus Dei on the telefís."


Falun Gong Dancer is a striking minimal ballad almost entirely consisting of Coughlan's voice. "Nuked and neutered shell man stay grateful, play along," he strangely sings. "Smitten by some young one who danced for Falun Gong." If that all sounds a bit mental, then brace yourself for Archbishop Beardmouth At The ChemOlympics, or Sex Bunting, which contains elements of Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express.

There are pealing Angelus bells, answering machines, and all sorts of strange dialogue and random snippets of conversation. On Stop the Lights, after some weird samples, A hAon concludes with a flat bleep denoting the end of transmission.

Coughlan and Lee reportedly have another album in the can. Goodness knows what it will be about, or what it will sound like. While second guessing this duo is a complete waste of time, you can be certain that it won’t be boring.

Éamon Sweeney

Éamon Sweeney, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about music and culture