The 10 best Irish albums of 2018 (so far)
Tony Clayton Lea picks some of the best music released by Irish artists this year
Irish album picks: Wyvern Lingo, along with Glen Hansard, Delorentos, Rejjie Snow and Kojaque.
Rejjie Snow: Dear Annie (300 Entertainment/Brace Face)
It has taken Rejjie Snow well over five years to release his debut album, but such a delay shouldn’t be viewed as anything other than wanting to get those all-important ducks lined up in a row. As cohesive a piece of work as you can imagine, Snow (real name Alex Anyaegbunam) delivers a sequence of broadly autobiographical tracks that extend beyond the usual storyline tropes of love and loss. Across songs such as Rainbows, Spaceships, Greatness, and more, topics such as identity and belonging are broached, with Snow cute enough to mix deft, cadenced delivery with supremely melodic lines.
Glen Hansard: Between Two Shores (Anti)
As Glen Hansard reaches ever closer to the big 50, the years of experience are starting to show. From The Frames to Swell Season, from Oscar-winner Once to an ongoing solo career, he has taken it upon himself to move as naturally as possible from one song to the next, always adhering to the same robust/ragged style that has roots in Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Tim Buckley, and other pioneering mavericks. Irrespective of the entry point to a song, Hansard always touches the raw nerve, and on this, his third solo work, there are more of those than we deserve.
The Lost Brothers: Halfway Towards A Healing (Bird Dog Records)
This album received short shrift when it wasreviewed in this paper in January (horses for courses, etc), but for this writer it is here because at its core is courage in the face of emotional collapse. Duo Oisin Leech and Mark McCausland have doggedly rambled around the fringes of moderate success for over 10 years, and while the Everly Brothers’ influences remain, their fifth album excels via songs (including Echoes in the Wind, More Than I Can Comprehend, Where the Shadows Go, and Nothing’s Going To Change Me Now) that are heartfelt and much, much more than halfway to a healing.
Ash: Islands (Infectious/BMG)
Over 25 years after they started as teenagers, it seems inconceivable that the Ash lads are still able to bang out tunes with as much dynamism, but here we are – the songs hit hard yet soften the blows with a range of nimble melodies and warm moods. The songs veer from affectionate ballads (It’s A Trap, Did Your Love Burn Out?, Don’t Need Your Love) to vice-tight punk/pop (True Story, Annabel, Silver Suit), with a couple (Incoming Waves and “secret” track Easy Girl) pointing to potentially new directions for one of Ireland’s most durable bands.
David Kitt: Yous (All City)
Yous was self-released so quietly online in early 2017 that very few realised it existed, so a decision was made to start the “campaign” afresh this year by reissuing it. It was a wise and pragmatic decision, as there are few that can match David Kitt’s level of songcraft. Unlike his equally adept New Jackson music (think entrenched, airy techno/dance), Yous offsets Kitt’s characteristic easy-going methods with an uncomplicated lyricism. Factor in the creative partnership of Australian co-vocalist/violinist, Margie Jean Lewis, and you have a mesmeric collection of breezy summer tunes totally fit for purpose.
Paddy Hanna: Frankly, I Mutate (Strange Brew Rekkids)
Very few expected Paddy Hanna to drag himself out of the “quirky” category he had settled into with previous bands No Monster Club and Grand Pocket Orchestra, but since he released his 2014 debut solo album, Leafy Stiletto, his methodologies have become more acutely focused. Hanna’s belated follow-up is an equally singular piece of work, but this time around he has ditched flippancy in favour of sardonic and (betimes) conflicted songs that broach fluid ideas about illness, love, and misfortune. He may take some of his insubordinate vocal cues from the likes of Jarvis Cocker, but Hanna is stubbornly nobody else but himself.
Wyvern Lingo: Wyvern Lingo (Rubyworks Records)
Under the group title of Wyvern Lingo, Caoimhe Barry, Karen Cowley and Saoirse Duane have taken some years to release their debut album, and in the interim period – from their 2014 debut EP, The Widow Knows, to now – have crossed a few stylistic boundaries, notably from harmonious indie-folk to a svelte soul/funk vibe. The latter is the musical USP here, with songs such as Maybe It’s My Nature, When I Call, Out Of My Hands, Used, and I Love You Sadie tripping the light fantastic with distinction and due diligence. The realm of the senses awaits.
Delorentos: True Surrender (Delo Records)
To say that True Surrender has arrived via a downpour of blood, sweat and tears is an understatement. We think little about the struggles that musicians go through in order to create music, but such turmoil is all over and across this album, the band’s fifth. An open heart is here, also – through songs as expressive as Stormy Weather, Am I Done, Just Like Everybody Else, and Deep in the Heart and Delorentos highlight poignant touchstones and pivotal life events to a balanced backdrop of dexterous pop/rock.
Pursued By Dogs: Pursued by Dogs (self-released)
Bridging indie-rock/pop songwriting with incursions into techno/beats territory takes some guts, but Pursued by Dogs have done just that on their debut album. It helps that the interdependent vocals of Andrew Brennan and Suzanne Purcell generate a creative dynamic missing from previous incarnations of the band. There is also the no small matter of how classy electro-pop songs (including A Case of Rules, A Tunnel, Talk, Whiskey Ruin, Iceland, and Banish The Spiders) are invested with refined neo-classical piano. As elusive as the lyrics may be, there is a strength of conviction here that few bands ever match.
Kojaque: Deli Daydreams (Soft Boy Records)
Eight songs across 27 minutes might not constitute a recognised album length, but the ideas that Kojaque, aka Kevin Smith, puts across on this conceptual work (a week in the working life of a deli drone) frame it as such. Part spoken word, hip-hop, and found sounds, with jazz hints filtered throughout, the songs’ gifts lay in the politics of the everyday. Smith’s delivery, meanwhile, flows naturally, from soul singer in Eviction Notice to jagged poetry in White Noise.
The Academic (Tales from the Backseat), Hilary Woods (Colt), Hedge Schools (Magnificent Birds), Slow Skies (Realign), Le Galaxie (Pleasure).