ADRIAN CROWLEY: SOME BLUE MORNING
(Chemikal Underground) ★★★★✩
As the days shorten and the temperatures plummet, there is perhaps no surer companion than a new Adrian Crowley album. Laden with evocative imagery and teeming with sullen atmospherics, the seventh release from the enigmatic Galwegian is one to lose yourself in – the aural equivalent of a good book by the fire.
As ever, the most immediate thing here is Crowley’s voice: a deep, rich croon which resonates above a base of gently plucked guitars and prominent strings. He may be only in his mid-forties but comparisons to Leonard Cohen’s wonderfully-weathered baritone are now obvious.
From the declarative strides of the opening title track to the lovely closing lilts of Golden Palominos, Crowley excels at setting scenes. Throughout, he ruminates on life in distinctive ways, delivering introspective, often self-deprecating yarns that are deep-in-thought but never ponderous. This deeply poetic album is littered with memorable turns-of-phrase that will have you scrambling for a highlighter and the lyrics booklet. Nowhere is this more apparent than on The Wild Boar: a surreal, seven minute centre-piece that’s part folk-tale, part spoken word piece, with Crowley, as ever, the unmistakable narrator.
Originally published in the Metro Herald on Monday 10th November 2014 //
DAMIEN RICE: My Favourite Faded Fantasy
Vector recordings ★★★✩✩
After a self-imposed exile that lasted eight years, Ireland’s most féted troubadour makes his much anticipated return. Those wilderness years were certainly tumultuous, with an acrimonious split from linchpin collaborator and partner Lisa Hannigan a notable sore-point.
This is business as usual for Rice, though. The earnest, whispery vocals and gentle instrumentation of the title track make for a beautiful opener, but thereafter it’s a mixed bag. The Greatest Bastard is generic acoustic fodder but is followed by the utterly compelling I Don’t Want To Change You and across its eight tracks the album fluctuates between states of forgettable and fantastic.
Lyrically, this treads no new ground. The simple rhyming couplets will attract derision, but generally there’s a noticeable lack of insight, particularly for an artist who is so rooted in self-examination. And such examination is certainly drawn out, with only one track less than five minutes in length here.
A voice as enchanting as Hannigan’s was always going to be a loss and this is offset with an increased orchestral presence. When it works – most noticeably on The Box’s dramatic finale – it’s a treat and when on form, no one can match Rice for emotive, melancholic balladry. A decent, if slightly uninspiring return.
This article originally appeared in the Metro Herald on November 3rd 2014 // http://gometro.ie/2014/11/album-reviews-taylor-swift-tim-wheeler-annie-lennox/
Tim Wheeler: Lost Domain
Solo outings are usually reserved for musicians wishing to try new things or simply to fill time between tours and releases. But this debut offering from Ash frontman Tim Wheeler was inspired by personal tragedy. Having tempered his solo ambitions in lieu of a 20-year career with the Northern Irish trio, it was his father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and his eventual death that prompted Wheeler to finally go it alone. Unsurprisingly then, Lost Domain represents a complete departure. The punchy punk-pop tunes of yore are gone, replaced with weighty atmospherics and a deep sense of introspection as Wheeler grapples with the implications of such a tumultuous event. The first half sees him as the conductor of the orchestra, presiding over reflective moments which surge into gushing, string-laden crescendos.
It’s surprisingly accomplished and deeply autobiographical. It also packs an emotional wallop and on Hospital – the album’s poignant high-point – it’s hard not to be moved by the sincerity of the delivery. With a weaker second half and a few bum notes it’s by no means perfect. But Wheeler hits more than he misses and ultimately delivers an album that feels both measured and cathartic.
As originally published in the Irish Star on October 10th 2014 //
Little Sparks – Delorentos’ third release – was the undisputed high-point in the band’s career to date. After its release in 2012 the Dublin four-piece rode the crest of a wave, one that brought them the Choice Music Prize, innumerable five-star reviews and an appearance on The Late Late Show.
Deciding how to follow it then, was no easy matter. But where many would buckle under the weight of such expectation, Delorentos have flourished. Their new album Night Becomes Light is one to rival its much-lauded predecessor, with the band sounding brighter and more assured than ever. As I catch up with co-guitarists and vocalists Kieran McGuinness and Ronan Yourell on the eve of its release, they’re quick to cite internal – rather than external – pressures as the driving force behind its creation. “There are four songwriters in the band so there’s competition between us,” Kieran explains. “If Ronan brings an incredible song and another incredible song – I’m not going to be represented on the album. So we push each other and drive each other – that’s the kind of pressure we feel.”
Still, that’s not to say the band are completely immune to pre-release jitters. “It’s weird because it’s so internally focused until now. You’re one of the few people – apart from us – to have actually heard the album…” When I dutifully inform them that it’s excellent there’s a laugh and an audible sigh of relief. “So, those two years weren’t wasted!”
Such comments were not borne of just sycophancy: Night Becomes Light will undoubtedly earn the band a fresh wave of plaudits as well as fans. Lead single Show Me Love is the kind of instant pop-smash that’s made for the airwaves and while there’s plenty more of that ilk, there’s also some assured steps in more mature directions, most notably on the wonderfully poignant Valleys Where The River Run.
As originally published in the Irish Daily Star on October 24th 2014 //
Their recent tour took them to the sunny climes of America and Australia but Bell X1 are still looking forward to a gig on home soil – even if it is during a drab and dreary Irish October. Later this month the acclaimed Kildare trio return home to play the Sligo Live festival, as part of its 10th anniversary celebrations. “It’s always nice to play at home,’ Dom Phillips, the band’s bassist, explains. “It’s our first one in a while and those smaller, more boutique festivals are my preference – as opposed to the massive ones with all the madness that goes with it…”
Having been together for almost 15 years, Bell X1 are an assured live force at this stage and a welcome addition to any festival bill. Still, while pre-gig nerves may be a thing of the past, picking a set-list from such a considerable back catalogue is another matter altogether. “There’s a bit of doing what we want and also being conscious of what people expect,” Dom admits. “There are some songs that people would be disappointed not to hear. You don’t want to be just crowd pleasing but that’s what the job is: crowd pleasing. At a festival there’s an element of euphoria and some songs fit that bill more than others.”
Their Sligo Live slot takes place in the Knocknarea Arena, located in Sligo Institute of Technology. On paper it’s an unusual venue for a band of BellX1’s stature but the Dublin trio are not averse to mixing it up. In 2011 they played a special rooftop gig in Facebook HQ with none other than Mark Zuckerberg for company. More pivotally, it was around this time that they embarked on a stripped back, acoustic tour which has grown to become an important vehicle for the band. “It was just something different to do, initially.” Dom reveals. “It worked really nice so then we started to use it to road test new material while in the process of writing it. There’s no test for a song like playing it in front of people. It then came full circle in that we recorded the last album like that.”
This will to experiment and push beyond traditional venues and confines has helped keep the band’s spark alive over a decade and a half of live performances. “We wouldn’t be doing it if we weren’t excited about doing it,” says Dom, when quizzed on whether they still get the same buzz out of playing live. “Anything you can do to stay out of a rut is a good thing. We got to go to Australia recently which was interesting – you wouldn’t want to be doing the same tour year in, year out.”