This is a unique Irish album in a number of different ways.
The first song, ‘The Tarantella’, is sung in Italian, although its ominous drone opening and building mid-section make me think of Mogwai at their most steadfast, while its blistering finish is up there with the wildest hooley The Pogues ever managed (check in particular the rousing machine-gun refrain, “piú rapidita”). It’s an intoxicating fusion of folk styles – including the eponymous Italian folk style – and so intriguing that for some time I found it difficult to get past. But, once I did, I found plenty of other musical treasures.
The album’s lyrical themes also place it far from current Irish chart fodder, laying out as they do the backdrop of economic uncertainty and political chicanery so familiar in this country over the last few years. I have a hunch the band wouldn’t consider it a brave move as such to tackle these themes, but it is certainly refreshing to see them accommodated within pop and rock structures.
Having said that, some of these themes are obliquely or indirectly referenced. ‘Sweeney’s Frenzy’ deals with the myth of the Irish pagan king of the same name who becomes cursed following ill deeds; the music is quite redolent of The Horslips, with a trad tune ringing out on fuzzed up electric guitar.
Roger Casement crops up in ‘Black diaries’, which you could read as another indictment of political expediency. Its musical opening sounds for all the world like a metal doom-fest in the offing, but psych rock is the actual destination, via a satisfying math-rock workout.
The middle of the album contains three Irish titles, ‘Bóthar crua iarthar’, ‘Ríleanna na hIfrinn’ and ‘Mearchuimhneas’. The first of these begins with explicitly traditional Irish music figures, but tests them to the limit with rock arrangements and shifting time signatures, including a striking lament-style section adorned with mournful fiddle. It also describes one of the album’s dominant themes, finding a way through hardship and despair (in this case through forgetting Cromwell’s atrocities). In fact, the music throughout the album, predominantly upbeat, seems to echo that process, repeatedly dragging the protagonist up out of the depths.
You’ll have already heard the near-title track, ‘The brutal here and now (Part I)’, which employs a series of rounds, circling around the self-help phrase, “I will write this down again to try to help me to remember”, while banjo and electric guitar play fast and loose with an Irish jig. Again, I couldn’t avoid thinking of Mogwai or Deus, in terms of the way the ingenious arrangement meshes together and changes imperceptibly before your ears.
In fact, at numerous times throughout the album, you’ll find yourself tapping your foot along to an Irish trad rhythm, only to come round and discover you’ve landed in psych rock or drone territory.
‘The brutal here and now (Part II)’ showcases the band’s stunning vocal harmony work, which is uplifting despite (or maybe because of) the song’s chaotic but glorious ascension-into-the-sky imagery. ‘Shudder in the west’ uses a driving krautrock backbeat to castigate and console. And the closing line of final song ‘The rattling hell’, “Find a way to persevere somehow”, with its droning trad harmony, seems to sum up what the album is for.
Overall, it’s an intriguing piece of work, dense and full of ideas, as well as hooks aplenty. It’s also way more literate than catchy music has a right to be. And it strikes me as important music, a state of the nation address, you might say.
You could have a great singalong with this album – it would amount to the soundtrack to the rebellion.