What are the best Irish albums of the year (so far)?

We take stock of the Irish albums released this year. Cue arguments, celebrations . . .


Gypsies on the Autobahn: Suspended
Universal Music Ireland

Hot off the presses, the second album from this Dublin band plays to the strengths of indie rock past and present. There is a potent 1980s sensibility to the music, which points to indie anthems to shake a fist to. Lyrically (always a strong point with the band), a display of vulnerability only intensifies the overall impact of the songs.


Jafaris: Stride

In which Irish rap takes a step closer to crossover? Perhaps, perhaps not, but what it is certain is that we have yet another contender here. Coming out of Dublin-based hip-hop production centre Diffusion Lab, Jafaris presents a spiritualised viewpoint while never losing sight (or sound) of the music. Dosed with crisp beats, slinky soul and thrusting electro, Stride, released in March is equal measures reflective and riotous. Walk this way?


A Lazarus Soul: The D They Put Between the R & L
Bohemia Records

An old raincoat won't ever let you down? You could say the same about A Lazarus Soul, a group with a history that stretches back almost 20 years but which is never less than spot-on with social observations. Released in May, their fourth album is tethered mostly to the Irish folk song tradition and is augmented by the voice and words of Brian Brannigan. Too subdued for some, perhaps, but unlike many albums you will hear this year real significance oozes out of this one.


The Divine Comedy: Office Politics
DC Records

To many, Neil Hannon is the most articulate and literate songwriter we have; he is also a dab hand with melodies. Office Politics, released in June, took him and the listener down a side road strewn with synths and other poptastic bits and bobs. Lovers of Hannon's somewhat more serious, theatrical fare might be a tad disappointed but this is yet another perfect pop album from the man.


Glen Hansard: This Wild Willing

Perhaps surprisingly, Glen Hansard has morphed into the opposite of a human jukebox. Yes, at the drop of the proverbial hat he can sing any random song you might want to hear, but This Wild Willing, released in April, removes him from presumptions or expectations. There is something serious stirring here, as songs move, almost pugilistically, from gusty (I’ll Be You, Be Me) to quite unpredictable (Don’t Settle). Precarious? Yes. Impassioned? That, too.


The Gloaming: The Gloaming 3
Real World

The modus operandi of The Gloaming’s vocalist, Iarla Ó Lionáird, is to bring the listener into “a more mantric and transcendent space.” From the first track (The Weight Of Things/Méachan Rudai) he and his fellow musicians do exactly that. Referencing more than once Ó Lionáird’s superlative 2006 solo album, Invisible Fields, The Gloaming’s third album, released in February, and produced with painstaking empathy by the group’s co-founding member Thomas Bartlett) delivers an aural duvet you just want to envelope yourself with from dusk to dawn.


Junior Brother: Pull the Right Rope
Strange Brew

We had the notion that Kerry’s Ronan Kealy was something else altogether when we caught a gig or two of his late last year. As someone with merely a voice and a guitar, he’s nominally a singer-songwriter, but listen to the music on his debut, which came out in May, and you realise quickly enough that amidst the customary song structures are idiosyncratic influences. So, yes, we hear Nick Drake and John Martyn, but we also hear John Fahey and Captain Beefheart. The central track, the nine-minutes-long Purple Circle, is key to the understanding of this most remarkable album.


Colm Mac Con Iomaire: The River holds its Breath/Tost ar an Abhainn
Plateau Records

No matter whether you describe Colm Mac Con Iomaire as a fiddle player or a violinist – the sonic connotations of each are swept aside in his third album, released in May. Coming into his own as an adept orchestrator (some lessons of which he may have gleaned from his collaborations here with Bill Whelan), unmatched tracks such as Late Afternoon/Tráthnóna Beag Aréir, the title track, and From the Mountain to the Sea/Ó Sliabh go Cuan lull you into dreamtime you really don’t want to wake up from.


Rosie Carney: Bare
Akira Records

Released in January with little fanfare, the official debut album from Donegal-raised singer-songwriter Rosie Carney contains an exceptional mixture of voice and subject matter. The former is a supple instrument that almost equals Joni Mitchell at her most expressive and Laura Marling at her most melancholy. The latter tackle deeply emotive themes: the need for self-regulated solitude, and how love can sometimes be the balm that cures all. Rosie Carney – killing you softly with her songs.


Fontaines D.C.: Dogrel

There is always a danger that too much of a good thing will wallop you to the ground, and that an avalanche of advance hype will say more about the do-gooders than the naysayers. Six full months into 2019, Dublin-based Fontaines D.C. will have no doubt moved on somewhat from the 11 songs on their debut, Dogrel – released in April – but one of the album’s many strengths is that its range of material could take their next batch of songs to anywhere. Simply put, only a fool would want to second-guess their next creative steps. For now, however, we have this wonderful, textured collection of urban songs that range from gnarly post-punk (Boys in the Better Land, Too Real, Television Screens, Big) and unflinching what-are-words-worth alt.pop (Liberty Belle, Roy’s Tune, Chequeless Reckless) to ragged glory folk (Dublin City Sky). While the latter is heavily indebted to Shane MacGowan’s sodden romantic idealism and the other songs have roots in well-trodden ground, what marks Dogrel out is a truthful Irish voice that mixes the rough and tumble of “ready steady violence” and “I feel like an old tattoo” with the simplistic, compassionate beauty of “Hey love, are you hanging on?”

Incoming: Irish albums to watch for, July-December

Fangclub, Mick Flannery, Alarmist, Murder Capital, David Keenan, Fionn Regan, Dermot Kennedy, Sun Mahshene, Girl Band, Damien Rice. Squarehead, Wild Youth, Sorcha Richardson, Pillow Queens, Daithi, Sinead O’Connor, Maija Sofia, Naoise Roo, Bats, Constant Supply, Fields, Innocent Bystander, TPM, Jinx Lennon, HamSandwich, Sean Mathews, We Banjo 3, Tomorrows, Paddy Casey, Sons of Southern Ulster, Mindriot, Glimmermen, Lankum, David Turpin, Join Me in the Pines, Kern

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in popular culture