I just checked out some of the greatest Irish-albums-of-all-time lists just in case I was missing something, and they’re generally full of big-sounding indie rock albums, some of which are absolute classics. But personally I prefer the quieter albums, produced with great care and attention, many on low budgets and which probably deserve even wider recognition.
There are lots of really great records produced by Irish artists that I listen to regularly – The Stars of Heaven’s Speak Slowly and Sacred Heart Hotel, David Kitt’s Small Moments, Mumblin’ Deaf Ro’s two albums, The Redneck Manifesto’s Cut your Heart off from your Head and any of Adrian Crowley’s albums.
I’ve been listening to Dry Land by The Last Post a lot recently because I found a long lost copy in a box of CDs in the attic. Listening to it again, I found that it hasn’t lost any of its emotional impact and sheer presence. When an album contains so many great songs and is so well produced and recorded, it doesn’t date in the slightest. It is timeless.
The Last Post was a studio project from Alan Kelly and Marc Carolan. Alan Kelly was previously in a band called In Motion who released a great album called the Language of Everyday Life back in 1994. From that album you can find ‘Honey Sweet Soul’ (great song, great bass line) and ‘Hollow Blow’ on youtube. Both might be familiar to those of a certain generation, as Donal Dineen featured the band regularly on No Disco.
Marc Carolan is a Dublin-based producer and engineer who has worked with the Thrills and the Sewing Room amongst others. We worked with Marc on our first EP many years ago. We tracked him down as he had just produced the Jubilee Allstars’ EP at the time and we were after that rich, analog studio sound and someone who understood how to record drums (a rare commodity back then).
That sound is an essential part of The Last Post and is why the album still sounds current and fresh. There are no detailed liner notes with the album but I’m assuming that Marc also had a major influence on the string arrangements which are also such a part of the album’s sound.
When the album opens with ‘Something Tells Me (You’d be Good for Me)’ for some reason I think Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys; perfect pop harmonies, a killer line and a big soundscape. The next track, ‘Only Thing that Eases the Pain’, is an absolute classic song and arrangement, again with echoes of 60s orchestral song arrangements but here it’s a distinctly modern existential tour de force. If anything it passes too quickly and you immediately want to listen to it again.
But many great songs follow; ‘Waiting’, ‘You’ve Got it All’, ‘Can’t Wait ‘til Tomorrow’. Then the track ‘Change’, another brilliant song with languid lush string arrangements, subtle descending piano lines and plangent clarinet. The album ends appropriately with ‘It’s All Over’ drifting off into a brass band outro.
The album received great reviews when it came out in 2002, but in many ways deserves much greater accolades. Fans of Belle and Sebastian or Camera Obscura would love it – but it is a unique sound, a big big orchestrated sound that fills the room and as a result those elegiac songs of romantic loss are rich and utterly convincing.
In some ways it predates what Sufjan Stevens is doing by some years and I think that a comparison with Sufjan is appropriate, given the complexity of the arrangements and the quality of the recording. When they next draw up those best-of lists this, by rights, should be up near the top.
By Cormac Gahan
Cormac is a member of Boa Morte, who released their second album, The Dial Waltz in 2010 in Ireland and is about to get a UK Spring release on the band’s label, Kicking a Can Records.