Fontaines D.C. – ‘Skinty Fia’
For Irish post punks Fontaines D.C., a central theme has always been belonging, and being unable to belong. After releasing their shattering debut Dogrel, a raw post punk record about being young in Dublin, the band was quickly pigeonholed as “a rock band who reads” and “the guys from Dublin”. Fontaines reacted very consciously with their sophomore effort A Hero’s Death, a despondent, angular record about the absence of place and identity, of not belonging and maybe not wanting to (it was also one of the best post-records of the last ten years). After this one-two-punch, a necessary question would be: Where do they go from here?
Fontaines D.C. ask this question on their new record Skinty Fia, but they do not necessarily answer it. The record sees the band embracing a fuller, more rounded sound, while simultaneously going more scattershot. There are a handful of post punk bangers (Nabokov, Skinty Fia), a couple ballads (Big Shot, I Love You) and instances where the band seems to harken back to Irish song tradition and their love for poetic narrative (In ár gCroíthe go deo). This could be a recipe for disaster, but it is not, mostly because the band sounds almost frighteningly assured. The first single Jackie Down The Line skirts along on two chords and a grungy bass fundament, while frontman Grian Chatten’s fantastic lyrics tell the tale of someone embracing hideousness. Skinty Fia’s eclectic bass line perfectly mimics the scattershot nature of the song while also keeping it grounded. All the while, the band seems to be somewhat in suspension, playing with lusher instrumentation and more melody while embracing neither fully. What Fontaines D.C. end up doing, then, is to portray the state of suspension between not knowing where to go and being expected to fit in. Fittingly, Skinty Fia refers to an Irish idiom (roughly translatable as ‘the damned Deer!’) and is in itself an extinct term that used to signify individuality and national identity now just signifies its absence. Just like the Irish deer on the cover, parts of history constantly lose their place, are forgotten, or go extinct. Fontaines D.C. are just picking up the pieces. (Nils Heutehaus)
S. Carey – ‘Break Me Open’
In the past ten years, S. Carey has advanced to an indispensable figure inside the Bon Iver community, has contributed to Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell and written songs with Low and others, while his own œuvre often runs a little under the radar, unjustly to say the least. Break Me Open is following on 2018’s Hundred Acres and mirrors the radical challenge of an artist trying to adapt to the noise of the times. It is about “love – past, present and future”, Carey remarks, about fatherhood, facing his own mistakes and about how to battle the dark days and significant human crises. Above all, he remarks, “it’s a message of hope, honesty and growth. It’s a call to be vulnerable: Break Me Open”.
One reason why the music of S. Carey has fled the light of broader attention may lie in the fact that the trained jazz-musician has avoided to push his sonic framework into such progressive directions as for instance his mate Justin Vernon from Bon Iver has done in the past years. Instead, his work can be best understood and appreciated in terms of the emotional textures he manages to weave around the songs, just as well on Break Me Open. As the ambient Dark roams through the beginning of the record, blending into the obscure Starless, there is a puzzling mood present, which continues to wind through the ten songs. Though the big themes that S. Carey dives into – fatherhood, the break-up of his marriage, his kids growing up – are ever present, Break Me Open crafts a magnificent beauty out of the aching darknesses and transformative experiences that underlie the heart of album. The piano-led Waking Up is a soothing and almost cathartic delight, while the following ethereal Desolate sparks off meditative feels and in every fibre carries the vulnerable request to Break Me Open. That very title track, rounding off the journey towards the end, may just be the very coda all of this needed, reigning in solemn and enigmatic feels. (Andreas Peters)
Kate Bollinger – ‘Look At It In The Light (EP)‘
Virginia artist Kate Bollinger’s new EP Look At It In The Light comes just at the right moment in time, because the collection of six songs not only carries the promise of blossoming light in them, the songs also fulfil that very notion – and are the next good reason to keep the songwriter at close watch. Her first-ever label-signed release has Bollinger boldly map out her indie-pop terrain heading into sonic realms in between the likes Lucy Dacus and Faye Webster, while pulling off a distinct authentic tone of affection, escapist fantasies and upbeat melodic flights.
With an acoustic bliss and a groovy base the EP’s introducing track I Found Out starts out, showcasing an alluring lightness of being, gleaming through. The following Who Am I But Someone sees Kate Bollinger exploring her reluctance to change and finding her place in the world in a most groovy and delightful way: “Who am I but a ship in the night / Lost but headed for you / Crossed my wires, unknown are my desires / A confused point of view”. Yards/Gardens is yet another upbeat hymn and carries the sound of the EP into more fuzz-rock terrains, as the next track Lady In The Darkest Hour shows how to craft an essentially melancholic sentiment in the shape of a stunningly upbeat tune: “Wait for it, there’s an end in sight / Soon comes the day when the tunnel fills with light / Things couldn’t stay, but change has a certain bite / Then the outside peels away revealing it was right”. And how refreshing it all can be, if you take all the small things and regard them In The Light, as Kate Bollinger has done on here, right? (Andreas Peters)
Hatchie – ‘Giving The World Away’
When Harriette Pilbeam first showed up on the musical map four to five years ago under her moniker Hatchie her distinctive ability to recreate a special early 90s shoegaze and dream pop sound for the hear and now surely caught the attention of likeminded folks like me who really dig that sort of sound. Luckily, the follow-up to her debut LP Keepsake continues that path and plays out all the strength of the Hatchie sound which still feels like a blend of drippy Slowdive and Cocteau Twins meeting New Order and other ‘Madchester’-infected groups. Pilbeam’s song breathe the slightly trippy, yet uplifting energy of the sound from thirty years ago that combined complexity with catchiness. So, yes, Giving The World Away is quite a retro affair but a very pleasant one since the songwriting skills of the Australian newcomer have only increased over the past three years. Lights On takes us right back to the cloudy days of the sound as the artist caresses the audience of with an uplifting “Cause I can’t stop thinking about your touch.” This Enchanted then brings a bit acid house vibe to the equation while also keeping the cloudy dream pop spirit away. Hatchie’s joint venture with acclaimed ‘indie-meets-retro’ producer Jorge Elbrecht (Wild Nothing, Japanese Breakfast) really pays off in these moments.
From a laidback ballad like Take My Hand to the dreamy folk of Thinking Of and the epic stadium pop of Don’t Leave Me In The Rain – Hatchie manages to create a cohesive atmosphere where the single tracks are perfectly intertwined by a mutual spirit and musical DNA. Additional highlights include the catchy single Quicksand with its irresistibly catchy chorus as well as the epic The Key which lets those early 90s breakbeats clash with mighty walls of noisy guitars. Hatchie delivers a mighty statement of self-confidence and artistic determination on this album while also delivering 12 really sweet indie-pop gems. Yes, sometimes she oversteps the line of kitsch but that only makes this record even more tempting. Fellow lovers of tender indie-pop with retro flair shouldn’t wait any longer to let Hatchie in their hearts. (Norman Fleischer)
Kathryn Joseph – ‘for you who are the wronged‘
It is difficult to say whether Scottish singer-songwriter Kathryn Joseph simply has a remarkable ability for finding a sense of beauty in pain and sorrow, of if she somehow manages to mould those things into something beautiful, by making them the subject of her extraordinary lyricism and haunting vocals. The intention behind her latest album, titled for you who are wronged, is important. It is a collection of eleven songs rebelling against violation – of power, of love, of access – and is dedicated to victims of abuse. These topics are not easy to talk about, but she does it well, delivering shared truths and insight with power and authenticity. Track after track, she packs raw emotion and intensity, but also quiet defiance and hope.
The subject matter may be somewhat dark, yet her voice is soft. Hushed and breathy, there is a sense of intimacy so compelling, so deeply personal, it is reminiscent of an atmosphere that sits around as friends share stories by a flame. As you listen, you seem to be bearing witness. All in all, it is an album which is stunningly simple, tender, and sincere. There is a folky sensibility as double-tracked vocals meet melodic keys – the simplicity feels pure and only makes the album more heart-rending. Once the music ceases, there is a wistful sentiment which lingers on and a state of extraordinary bewitchment hangs. (Elana Shapiro)
Tess Roby – ‘Ideas Of Space’
Back in 2018, Tess Roby’s Beacon was indeed an easily overlooked musical lighthouse that stood out from the sheer endless sea of releases and especially the other ones on Johnny Jewel’s Italians Do It Better label on which it was released. It showed an artist with plenty of musical skills, emotional honesty and artistic vision. Four years later the overdue follow-up Ideas Of Space underlines that this record wasn’t a lucky shot at all but simply the beginning of a fascinating journey as it appears. It’s a record that pulls the listener deep into the artist’s inner world. The Canadian artist creates a microcosm of rich electronic textures, gentle melodies and fragile yet determined vocal performances, creating an especially delicate version of dream pop; one that really deserves to be labelled that way. “You feel at home here,” she sings in the opening Century which works as a great and calming introduction to her world. Especially the title-track and its wonderful interplay between multiple textures, synthesizer patterns create and the artist’s voice create a truly mesmerizing cinematic atmosphere.
Like on her debut it is Tess Roby’s ability to create complex structures and melodies while keeping a certain minimalist appeal. Meditative mantras and repetitive motives like on Up 2 Me take the listener further into the hypnotic rabbit hole. Grooving beats are placed carefully throughout the record, like on Path and the gentle House/Home. But throughout the record Tess Roby barely oversteps the line here and that makes Ideas Of Space such a wonderful experience. It’s a record that – despite also touching darker themes – delivers a certain feeling of light-hearted tenderness. It’s a weightless invitation to drift among the clouds, freed from the earthly boundaries. In a press release Tess Roby said that the record had a healing effect on her and I think it’s safe to say that it can have a similar effect on the listener if you allow yourself to enter this world with open ears and an open mind. (Norman Fleischer)