Thursday, December 15, 2011

best Irish albums of 2011

Kind of got bored of numerical rankings but this is pretty much more-or-less in a rough order of preference.

Catscars - Construction     (White Plague)

Catscars' debut album is characterised by submerged, evasive compositions that flicker in and out of focus. The weightless, spectral synthpop of 'B-Song' and the off-kilter robotic groove of 'No Fun' are two of the more direct moments; while eerie, shadowy effects and reverberating chimes echo in and out of the mix on tracks like 'Toying With Me' and 'Monsong'.

B-Song by catscars

Laura Sheeran - Lust Of Pig & The Fresh Blood     (Flaming June)

A stunning record that combines mysterious, sometimes sinister lyrical imagery with exquisite gothic-tinged folk arrangements. Divided into two parts, the second ('The Fresh Blood') sees a shift towards electronic loops and ominous, abrasive sound effects, but overall the record remains remarkably coherent, all the more so given the differing ages of the songs included. Standouts include the hypnotic 'I'm Sorry Son' - with an understated, yearning vocal from the singer and sublime violin playing from Cora Venus Lunny - ,  the malevolent carnival-esque vibe of 'An Apple For You' and the darkly dramatic swell of 'A Wake'.

I'm Sorry Son by L A U R A S H E E R A N

SertOne - Versions

"If you ain't bringing nothing to the table then leave..."

This collection of remixes from the young Liverpool-via-Portadown producer showcases his willingness to tackle source material as disparate as Irish post-rockers (Halves), 'future-garage/bass/whatucallit' producers (Koreless) and hip hop stalwarts (DOOM, Busta Rhymes). Outstanding production throughout as he consistently takes the original and completely flips it, infusing it with his own unmistakable sound. Highlights include the appropriately-named 'Blissful mix' of Starfawn's 'Greenlight' and a sublime take on JR & PH7's 'Fast Lane Speedin''. The don.

Fast Lane Speedin' (ft. Oddisee) (SertOne Remix) - JR & PH7 by SertOneMusic

Le Galaxie - Laserdisc Nights 2     (Battlepulse)

01 - Earth by Le Galaxie

Patrick Kelleher & his Cold Dead Hands - Golden Syrup     (Osaka Recordings)

Golden Syrup is frequently a disorientating, spooked-sounding listen - whether it's the vortex-like momentum of 'Miracle Candle', the ominous low-end rumble of 'Too Many Harsh Words' or the haunted-disco of 'Contact Sports'. It's an effect heightened by Kelleher's changeable vocals - veering from austere baritone to showy falsetto on the gothic synth-pop of the title track and the excellent 'Seen Me Blue'. But there's also a wistful warmth to more low-key tracks like 'Broken Up Now' and 'Still In School'.

03 Patrick Kelleher and his Cold Dead Hands - Seen Me Blue by Patrick Kelleher

Raising Holy Sparks - Beyond The Unnamed Bay    (Fort Evil Fruit)

A core member of experimental folk collective United Bible Studies, David Colohan has released music under the Agitated Radio Pilot moniker since 1993, but a new approach taking influence from field-recordings, shapenote singing and Hasidic mysticism saw him adopt a new identity. Beyond the Unnamed Bay takes in spectral avant-folk ('Here Begins Our Lasting Joy'), steadily pulsing synth pieces ('As Far As We Can Go') and hypnotic loop-based compositions ('Diamonds In The Water Where You Swam'), as well as the abstract 20-minute number 'The Depths Of Bailey Point' which builds to a cacophony before ebbing again. Despite the range of styles the record has an unmistakable coherence to it, no doubt partly due to its distinctive ambience - a result of recording in unconventional locations such as an abandoned, flooding car park.

Diamonds In The Water Where You Swam by Raising Holy Sparks

Lorem Ipsum - Between Hospitals

A delirious-sounding mesh of dissonant lo-fi electronica from the anonymous producer, which followed up on his Good Friday Disagreement EP. Taking in wired, off-kilter grooves on 'An Astral Body', hypnotic fuzz-and-static-infused washes on 'St. Vincent's', and pop-song-in-a-blender tracks like 'Knight's Tour' and 'Crushed'.

An Astral Body by *Lorem Ipsum

Ilex - Old Din

Collecting most of the music she's made since she started in 2005, Old Din is 33 tracks long but those tracks are consistently excellent. Varies between hypnotic, intricate electronica and grittier, more up-tempo tracks; while 'Orkid' and 'Strings' have rich and evocative arrangements.

Mantua by ilex_

Hired Hands - My Heart Hung     (Any Other City)

Deceptively complex and supremely catchy folk-pop from the seven-piece who include former members of the sadly short-lived Feed The Bears. With a lilting sound characterised by off-kilter harmonies and woodwind/brass-bolstered arrangements, Hired Hands have a deft handle on subtle melancholy as well as vibrant, upbeat melodies - indeed the line is often blurred, as is the case with so many great bands.

The Quay Wall by Hired Hands

Popical Island - Popical Island #2     (Popical Island)

The sequel to 2010's acclaimed compilation from the Dublin-based collective completely lives up to those high standards. Despite the overall 'bockety' indie aesthetic, there's a wide and diverse range of sounds: the Mary Chain-esque early-90's vibe of Pantone247's 'Hello', the warm jangle-pop of Goodly Thousands' 'Kiss Me Upside-Down', the garage/surf-pop vibes of Squarehead's 'Candle', and the chiming and hypnotically off-kilter sound of Hello Moon's 'Barefoot'.  All the colours of the rainbow.

02-Pantone247 - Hello by popical_island

The Driftwood Manor The Same Figure (Leaving)    (Rusted Rail/Slow Loris)

The Same Figure (Leaving) was originally released as a limited edition CD-R on French label Ruralfaune in 2010, but this year saw it brought to deservedly wider attention. Eddie Keenan is as ever joined by a number of collaborators and kindred spirits from the folk/underground scene. Less influenced by psych/drone than the Found Photographs of Ancestors EP, this record is relatively concise and song-based, but those avant-folk tendencies are still in evidence: 'Each Day Has Bettered Me None' is backdropped by eerie, disquieting noises before being enveloped by rising squall, while 'To Be Done' sounds similarly creaking and distorted. That approach is mixed with the hypnotic folk simplicity of 'On A Corner of Athlone' or the title track, while the trad-influenced 'That Lasting Final Hurt' raises the tempo. The Same Figure (Leaving) is frequently brooding, even bleak in tone, but ultimately there's a warmth that wins out.

On a Corner of Athlone by The Driftwood Manor

Ginnels - Ginnels

The work of Grand Pocket Orchestra's Mark Chester, Ginnels is a boisterous collection of lo-fi pop songs whose addictive melodies are drowned in fuzz. Veer from the thrillingly frantic ('Best in Town') to the noisy ('Yama and Terio') to the more laidback ('Herdwick Bonez').

Best In Town by ginnels

Sea Pinks - Dead Seas     (CF Records)

'fountains, fossils, phantoms and faded seaside glamour' describes it pretty well: Sea Pinks is the project of Girls Names' Neil Brogan and Dead Seas is the follow up impressive debut Youth Is Wasted and the Peripheral Vision EP. Wistful, sun-kissed songs that nod to vintage 60's garage/girl-group influences - there's a washed-out vibe to it but not in the chillwave sense, as Dead Seas is characterised more by straight-up, robust rhythms and jangly guitar riffs (the title track nods to '(Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame').

Fountain Tesserae from Sea Pinks on Vimeo.

Bitwise Operator - Samurai Hack

Partly inspired by the Samurai Jack cartoon series, this record from Galway's Simon Kenny mixes glitchy chip-tune and hip hop influences with abrasive electronic textures and infectious, multicolour grooves.

The Dying Seconds - Glimmerers      

Exquisitely brooding melancholy mixed with tuneful hooks - an expanded line-up saw The Dying Seconds step up a level. Highlights include the ominous-sounding 'Mora Minn', the sparse, forlorn-sounding 'Greenhorns' and the charmingly off-kilter 'Rubbernecks'.

Rubbernecks by thedyingseconds

Tieranniesaur - Tieranniesaur      (Popical Island)

Exuberant, irreverent lo-fi funk-pop from Annie Tierney and co. Mixes the sunny bubble-gum hooks of 'Sketch!' and 'Candy' with the disco-tinged rhythms of 'In The Sargasso' and 'Pretty Girl String Quartet'. Not to mention the unstoppable 'Here Be Monsters'.

Rhino Magic - Get Going     (Tender Objects)

Fuzzy lo-fi bedroom-pop, at times sounding a bit like a hazy cross between shoegaze and slacker-rock. Elsewhere there's high-pitched, buzzing keyboard sounds, sunny hooks and some bleary melancholy ('The Best Possible End').

home with you by Rhino Magic

Sunken Foal - Mother Of God    (Acroplane)

Disorientating and shadowy, like some kind of hall-of-mirrors where disembodied vocals float through a mix of imposing-but-muffled beats and eerie samples.

Sunken Foal - Gift Knee Pads (clip) by Acroplane

Hello Moon - Only Count The Sunny Hours     (Any Other City)

Mixes sweepingly melodic sugar-rushes ('Vanity', 'Here I Am') with dreamier, chiming numbers ('Measure Of Me', 'Sievehead'), jaunty instrumental 'The Calculus Affair' and gorgeously swooning closing track 'Awkward Hugs'.

Awkward Hugs by Hello Moon

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Best Irish EPs of 2011

1 - In The Black Box - Waves

In The Black Box is the project of Dublin-based electronic producer Dave Donoghue, and project is indeed the word since it's a multi-media affair that encompasses videos, photography, writing, art,and his own podcasts. You can check it all out over at

The Waves EP, as an example of the multimedia approach, would later be accompanied by a set of accompanying videos viewable here. Musically it was already exceptional: 'When It Is Needed' is a spacious track that combines subtly hypnotic loops and a quietly insistent beat with a recurring piano figure, while the techno-leaning 'Coil' and the woozily off-balance 'Eck-Ohs' are shot through with numerous clever touches.

In The Black Box - Eck-Ohs by InTheBlackBox

In The Black Box - When It Is Needed from In The Black Box on Vimeo.

2 - Simon Bird - V

Simon Bird's fifth EP showcased the increasing range of the producer's sound - taking in the dramatically swelling squall and noise of the 'Baphomet Vs. The Great Winged Horse' two-parter (suitably sounding like an aural equivalent of a mythological/heroic poem), the shimmering, exquisitely structured 'Xerox Waveform Godless Ocean', and the eerie, otherworldly strains of closer 'Stillborn in Autumn'.

Xerox Waveform Godless Ocean by SimonBird

3 - Nouveaunoise - Sequence Consequence

Moving on from the hazy, fluid, layered sound of last year's superb Paraphrase Accolade (which nodded to Flying Lotus circa Los Angeles at times), Sequence Consequence is more along the lines of the tecnicolour maximalist (thanks Simon) vibe of acts like Hudson Mohawke and Rustie. Sunny grooves and infectious vocal samples.

Nouveaunoise - Believe by nouveaunoise

4 - The Depravations - Mosey EP

An EP that was apparently just recorded to get their drummer up to speed, but subsequently took on a life of its own. Predominantly acoustic, the EP deals in breezy, mellow, surf-pop tinged songs with charming vocals and vintage-sounding harmonies. As well as that there's some neat flourishes such as the climax of 'Not Forgotten', which (with the addition of those drums) would become a thrilling highlight of their live sets. And judging by those live sets, the upcoming album should be a belter.

Not Forgotten by The Depravations

5 - DeclanQKelly - Yzz

Minimal and acoustic, Yzz shows just one side of a musician who's as likely to produce abstract pieces based around loops and found sounds as he is something like this. A collection of subtly hypnotic instrumentals, there's a warm lo-fi ambience to the guitar tones as well as an eerie, unsettling undercurrent on tracks like 'Phalanx Glove'. One for the winter evenings.

Phalanx Glove by DeclanQKelly

6 - SertOne - The View From Above (Melted Music)

A debut EP from the talented and very-prolific producer (based in Liverpool but from Portadown), The View From Above is an immaculately-produced and varied collection: (largely) instrumental hip-hop with electronic influences, it nods at times to the layered, laidback-but-physical beats of LA-based Samiyam. Judging by the eclecticism of his remix work since, this is only a starting point - potential to burn.

Past, Present and Future by SertOne by MeltedMusic

7 - Bantum - Lay Lay

The latest in a string of impressive EPs from the Cork-born, Dublin-based producer (Lay Lay being the 4th) showcases a sound that continues to evolve. 'An Introduction' bobs and weaves deftly, building towards an irresistible peak; the pulsing, wired 'Gravy' and the superb title track are punctuated by Margie Lewis' rhythmically cut-up vocals; while 'New String' is a more down-tempo ode to sleep paralysis featuring a vocal from Michael Owens aka Owensie.

Lay Lay (feat. Margie Lewis) by BANTUM

8 - Sunken FoalRichter Versions

One of the things that has made the Richter Collective such an exciting label over the last few years is the fact that - although it’s predominantly regarded as a rock label that leans towards the heavier end of the spectrum – many of its flagship artists are so adept at harnessing the pulse and textures of electronic music to a metal or post-rock-influenced sound. Sunken Foal stripped away the guitars, ('transcribing the performed parts into a midi sequencer and arranging the parts for synthesizers') to bring out hidden layers of melancholic atmosphere, menace and spacious, shimmering beauty on tracks by Adebisi Shank (‘Micromachines’), The Redneck Manifesto (‘Tomb Of The Dudes’) and Hands Up Who Wants To Die ('Stopwatch').

Micromachines (Swell Dub) by sunken_foal

9 - Patrick Kelleher/School TourSplit EP (CF Records)

Two very different and reliably unpredictable sides to this limited cassette on CF Records: in contrast to last year’s more ambient-leaning Yes Way EP, School Tour’s side is cavernous, gothic and ominous-sounding; Kelleher’s, meanwhile, is a grab-bag of strange pop oddities – the almost-vaudeville turns of ‘I’m Alive’ and the charming, chiming ‘Tiny Tim Bought a Jetpack’ making for a nice contrast to the gothic synth-pop direction he would pursue on LP Golden Syrup.

School Tour - The Last Exit West ("Patrick Kelleher/School Tour" Split double EP - 2011) by CF Records

10 - T-Woc - Jetstar (Alphabet Set)

The producer and DJ's sixth EP for Alphabet Set is an eclectic mix of off-kilter electronica, hazy instrumental hip hop and deep bass grooves.

zion live by t-woc

11 - Daithi - Embrace

The Galway-based musician combines dizzying, layered violin loops with pulsing rhythms in a unique math-rock/electro/trad/Final Fantasy hybrid. On paper it sounds dubious but on record - or live - it's pretty compelling.

Sleep Like A Stone by Daithi

12 - Datadrip - Collision

Varied EP from the Dublin duo; calling to mind Fuck Buttons on the visceral electronic squall of 'Animals' as well as giving a nod to vintage Depeche Mode on the excellent, niftily arranged 'Wild Neon'. 'Oh', meanwhile, is a patiently paced opener that starts off chilled and builds in intensity, setting up 'Animals' nicely.

Wild Neon by datadrip

13 - Ten Past Seven - Black Box Recordings (Out On A Limb)

After a nail-biting last-ditch success in their Fundit campaign, instrumental 'bog prog' trio Ten Past Seven did as promised and headed for France to record some tunes at Black Box Studios with the aid of Dave Odlum. The result proves their endeavours worthwhile: the Black Box Recordings go some distance to recapturing the intensity and power of the band's gripping live shows. Although you could loosely term it as instrumental post-rock, Ten Past Seven's sound flits between a number of styles even in the space of one track: there's hints of math-rock here and there, delicate ambient passages and ferocious crescendos reminiscent of Come On Die Young-era Mogwai; while at their very heaviest they have a metallic intensity. These three tracks build slowly but irresistibly, tension and release rendered expertly by skilled musicians.

Johnston's Cows by OOAL

14 - Ginnels - Mountbatten Class (Long Lost)

Fuzzy, ramshackle lo-fi goodness from Mark Chester (of Grand Pocket Orchestra and No Monster Club). Also released an album this year. More on that anon

15 - Ed Devane - Room Full Of Empty People (Takeover Records)

C+ P: 'an abrasive, intense record where thumping percussion collides with high-pitched electronic squall. Opening track ‘Wharf’ leads in with blown-out, distorted beats, shuddering bass and all manner of harsh, rasping electronic textures. The percussion becomes more rhythmic on second track ‘2C-me’, which is grimier in tone and more dancefloor-friendly in tempo, while ‘Technoblient’ combines an insistent, pounding beat with more paint-strippingly corrosive noise. Final track ‘Squib’ is perhaps the most compelling of all, its jarring static-fuzz-infused intro developing into a hypnotically layered composition anchored by pulsing bass.'

Squib by Ed Devane

16 - A Shadow - Ebb and Flow (Second Square To None)

Lovely, evocative ambient sounds from Dublin musician Keith Murphy. Also released an album - When All Is Said and Done, What Is Left to Say and Do later in the year. Nocturnal chimes and celestial drones.

17 - The Followers Of Otis - The Claddagh Sessions

Breezy, soulful folk-rock from the Galway-based band, capped off by the smoky balladry of 'River Corrib Song'. Puts a nice spin on some vintage influences.

18 - Bouts - Bouts

Nothing too complex here - recorded and mixed in eight days, Bouts is unashamedly vintage-sounding alt/slacker-rock that nods to the likes of Weezer, Dinosaur Jr or (more contemporarily) Surfer Blood; with chunky riffs, distorted bass and wistful
hooks aplenty.

19 - The Holy Roman Army - Lazerians

Re-inforcing their previous strengths - downtempo, evocative electronica combined with Laura Coffey's dreamy vocals - with an increasing emphasis on rhythmic variety, Lazerians is an impressive development from the duo and augurs well for the album due in 2012. 'Electricity' is pretty infectious, the frequent use of brass works really well with their sound, and there's some neat samba-esque flourishes.

Electricity by theholyromanarmy

20 - Avalanche Ammo - Animals

Frenetic, heavy, breathless post-rock from the Kildare musician on his debut EP.

Panda Capture by Avalanche Ammo