Forwards/Backwards

 

The past year has, for most people, had its ups and downs. Similarly, the year in music has had its peaks and troughs – but thankfully there have been more highs than lows. Irish music in particular has had an incredibly strong year, with a remarkable amount of top-notch albums released by homegrown acts in 2010.

Here in Dublin, there have been some stellar gigs – like Janelle Monae, Faith No More, Stevie Wonder, and many at Electric Picnic – but the rest of the counties haven’t been neglected either (though it would be wonderful if more bands were able to do a few gigs around the country, rather than just Dublin dates).

It is perhaps inarguable that 2010 was the year when Irish music blogging really took off, with the result that a group of homegrown bloggers even decided to create their own music awards.

Meanwhile, the Irish political landscape was strewn with dead bodies and not-so-cleverly-hidden landmines in 2010, while our economy was pulled across the battlefield without its limbs. Ireland has not been a fun place to live in this year, and people have been left in some awful situations; jobless, homeless, bankrupt…but like many other countries (or cities) which have experienced similar situations, the Arts has been one area that has flourished.

In the midst of the doom and gloom, musicians harnessed their creative spirit and spun together albums that are to be cherished, albums that could only be made when the country is up shit creek and all that is left is to make art for art’s sake.

It’s obvious that people in indie/alternative/DIY (call it what you like) music scenes around the country continued to make music because of their love for it, because the only reward they wanted was to have someone listen to their work. This is no surprise to those who are invested in these scenes but in 2010 there was a leap in the DIY spirit that had been lacking for some of the ’00s.

In 2010, people picked up guitars, plugged in synthesizers, put on free gigs, made homemade tapes, formed collectives, made friends with bands instead of enemies,  blogged, bought, wrote and championed. The result? Many, many special moments in Irish music, like the audience singalongs during Villagers’ set at the Electric Picnic, or the dance floor getting slammed at the Pavilion in Cork when John Daly threw on another disco gem, or when Adebisi Shank supported Faith No More and raised a cheer in the Olympia that defied the humble title ‘local support act’.

And let’s not forget the countless smaller gigs and events that made 2010 the year it was. My mind conjures up memories like the Popical Island compilation album launch at Whelan’s Upstairs and the comraderie, the fun and the giddiness that ensued; the Out on a Limb C!ties/Guilty Optics single launch when the crowd got to their knees during C!ties’ set; the whispers about who would play the next State secret gig (which I always seemed to miss, to my chagrin); the nights nodding along to Thai Funk tracks at the B Music events at Thomas House; the times I squeezed onto the jammers dancefloor in the Slate for the short-lived but very fun Les Etrangers nights; the Black Sun gigs that blew my tiny mind again and again; seeing the sublime Laura Sheeran, Patrick Kelleher and Calvin Johnson perform in the Exchange and marvelling at the power of DIY culture and independent music in Ireland; the PVT gig which christened the opening of the new Workman’s Club venue; the Sundays DJing at Workshop in An Realt Dearg in Cork; the itching and scratching while taking part in the turntable orchestra in St Finbarre’s Cathedral during Sonic Vigil.

 

Deep in thought while DJing at the Realt Dearg. Photo by Izabela Szczutkowska - http://www.izyandthesunshines.blogspot.com/

And I will never forget the fundraising gig I put on to raise money for Goal after the Haiti earthquake and the amount of generous, kind souls who gave their time, cake, skills, music and money for free on a wet Thursday night.

We can’t say 2010 was the best year for Irish music ever, because that’s not what this is all about. But this was a particularly great year for music made in this country and let’s hope that the spirit doesn’t wane in 2011.

(Somehow, I think it won’t.)

Here are some more of my favourite musical moments in 2010 (and a peek at who I’m looking forward to hearing more from in 2011)

2010

Popical Island

2010 was the year of the DIY spirit, and nowhere was this more obvious than in the formation of the Popical Island collective. Created by a bunch of Dublin-based bands that share a similar pop spirit and do it yourself attitude, Popical Island brought us a mid-year compilation that had everyone talking, sharing with us as it did the likes of Squarehead, Land Lovers, Yeh Deadlies, Groom and more.  Then there were the ongoing Popicalia! nights, which feature Popical bands and acts that aren’t part of the collective, and the recent Christmas release.  When I think of DIY, this is what comes to mind – bands taking a risk, doing something using their own time, money and motivation and showing us that Irish bands are, well, pretty fucking awesome.

Janelle Monáe

2010 was Janelle Monáe’s year, and her trio of gigs in Ireland only served to prove that this young woman is a kick-ass antidote to the overhyped and underdressed Rhianna, Lady Gaga et al. Her album, The ArchAndroid, swiftly became my album of the year thanks to its blend of the spirit of Prince, the funk of OutKast and the mind-bending afrofuturist stories conjured up by Miss Monáe herself. I was gutted to hear that at one of her London gigs people were given the ‘opportunity’ to meet her once they coughed up some cash, and I know there is a corporate, P. Diddy’d edge to her career that is being managed by those with $$ in their eyes. But that still doesn’t sour the fact for me that Monáe is an out-and-out star.

Richter Collective

The Richter Collective label made big waves in 2010, even managing to create a sensation out of a band who released their first album before they’d even played a gig. Yes, the success of Cast of Cheers proved that once a band gets the Richter stamp, it’s going to have all Irish ears listening.

Then there was the release of Adebisi Shank’s second album, This is The Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank, which had musos wetting themselves over its riffs that were as great for dancing as beard-stroking to. Stellar work from a label that always has its eye on the (DIY) prize.

Check out the link above for more Richter goodness.

Laura Sheeran and Pledge Music

I’ve been a huge fan of Laura Sheeran since I first saw her perform at the Black Sun event in Cork city in 2009. As I said in a guest blog post I wrote for Nialler9 earlier this year, she’s like an episode of Twin Peaks in female form  – mysterious yet humorous, grounded yet with an ear for the ethereal.

This year, she signed up to Pledge Music in an effort to get her first full length album released. The aim with Pledge is to get your fans to pledge a certain amount of money towards your work. In return, they get to choose what they’d like in return (aside from a copy of the album) – special editions, remixes, merchandise, free gigs in their home, all sorts of special goodies. To date, Laura’s managed to get a sizeable amount of money raised and in return her fans have just received the double-album in the past week. Proof, if proof is needed, that bands know their fans are behind them and this support can garner great results.

Niamh de Barra & Second Square to None

This label was responsible for Niamh de Barra’s ‘Cusp’ EP, which gave us an insight into her dark sea shanties and atmospheric, multilayered approach to vocals. A rather unique debut release and an example of how without labels like SSTN, we’d be missing a huge amount of amazing music.

Meljoann & BabyBeef

Meljoann and BabyBeef‘s debut releases showed us that Irish women can out-funk the best of them with clever electronic pop songs that become earworms. BabyBeef even released an electronica version of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck – one of those ‘what the…?’ moments that had listeners split but left me pondering on which version I prefer.

Meljoann, meanwhile, absorbed the power of 90s RnB and melded it with her musical skills and electro knowledge to bring us a fresh take on modern funk-pop with her debut Squick.

Solar Bears

In December of ’09, I got an email from a guy called John who had attached some tracks for me to consider playing on my show, Sweet Oblivion. It was one of those unassuming emails where you don’t suspect that there is some very special music just waiting for you to listen to. I’m proud that Sweet Oblivion was one of the first radio shows to play Solar Bears‘ music and was so delighted to hear that the band have been appearing in top 10 and best-of 2010 lists drawn up by some of the most esteemed music publications worldwide. She Was Coloured In is a truly fantastic debut and I’m extremely excited to see what the duo will come up with next.

Plugd Reopens

This time last year we were mourning the closure of Plugd Records, Cork’s independent record store. When the doors closed on its small Washington St base, it was a dispiriting day for all of us who shopped there. But hallelujah! It reopened in a bigger, better space – Triskel’s Caroline St building – last summer and Plugd regained its rightful place at the epicentre of Cork’s music scene.

Pic by Barry Walsh

However, as one door opens, another shuts. This year Road Records shut the doors to its Fade St home, never to reopen. For Dubliners it was a sad day for a scene that had always assumed Road would be around – there to sell its records, host its posters and provide a home for the capital’s homegrown music.

In its place is the new store RAGE, completely different in its remit, and offering a brilliant service for vinyl buyers. Though nothing will take Road Record’s place in Dublin, for its longstanding customers the vibrant memories remain.

Strands

The debut album of Strands seemed to appear almost out of nowhere – not withstanding the fact that its creator, one Stephen Shannon, is a well-known and highly thought-of musician and producer based in Dublin – with rumblings about its imminent release appearing on twitter just a short time before the fact. But within hours of it being released to journalists and bloggers, it was being tweeted about; once it was on general release the praise just kept coming. Strands is as strong and fresh a solo debut as Shannon could have hoped for, and then some. I hear there is a Strands remix album due for release soon, so those hankering for their next (mostly) instrumental fix won’t have to wait long.

Not to forget:

Twin Shadow, Benoit Pioulard, Agnes Obel, Zola Jesus, Cap Pas Cap, Hunter-Gatherer, S Carey, Caribou, Halves, Windings, Emeralds, Small Black, Nouveaunoise…

2011

Space Dimension Controller

One of my best friends,  Kim, is a DJ who is always a few steps (or rather, leaps!) ahead of me when it comes to Ireland’s house scene, so I knew when she recommended this young Belfast producer to me I was in for a treat. The minute I heard the galactic funk of The Love Quadrant I knew Jack Hamill was onto a good thing. Looking forward to more releases from him in 2011. Thanks, as always, for the tip, Kim!

Goodly Thousands

Take the jangly youthful vigour of Orange Juice, the sensitivity of one Steven Patrick Morrissey, and combine with unabashed heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics for some timeless pop songs. Though they sound like they’re straight out of 1983, 2011 better be the year this spritely group release their first album. 

Toby Kaar

I first mentioned Toby’s music on the blog in October ’09 and am continuously amazed at how much his work has progressed in just a year. He has been getting more and more praise as the months have gone on and I’m pretty sure that 2011 will bring even more spine-tingling music from him.

Owensie

Signing to the always-solid Out on a Limb label for the release of his debut album was a great move for Dublin’s Owensie, who belies his roots in Terrordactyl and Puget Sound with a softer approach with his solo music. Great move by the hardworking folks at OOAL too, as this album is going to be a big one for them.

Comparisons to José Gonzalez and even Nick Drake are most certainly justified, with Aliens a folk album to treasure. Out on 4th Febuary, launched 21st January in The Black Loft, Dublin.

Croupier

A band not on Richter Collective who sound like they could be on Richter Collective. There’s a shade of Bats to their call-and-response vocals and the urgent, punk-ish vibe to their tracks on their recent EP makes me think they have a strong live show. Looking forward to putting this to the test in 2011…

Sí (Síle Ní Dhubhgaill)

Not-so-patiently awaiting some more music from this talented Irish young woman:

Toro Y Moi

Last album was low key electronica – new track is a slice of subtle disco magic. Cannot wait for the next album, Underneath the Pine, due to drop in February.

James Blake

The world and its mother is waiting for this album’s imminent release, and I haven’t been able to get his Feist cover of Limit to Your Love out of my head for days….new songs can’t come soon enough!

Meadhbh Boyd

Anyone who has met the multi-talented Meadhbh knows she has an infectious energy, and while this seeps through into her music, it is beautifully restrained by the soft rhythm of the piano that forms the backbone to her latest songs.  There’s a Regina Spektor feel to the tune below, Smelly Defeat, and I suspect the young multi-instrumentalist may draw many comparisons to Fiona Apple – but she lacks the overwrought emotions that feature in the latter’s work. An added reason to listen to her: anyone who thinks it’s ok to be a weirdo (as per the lyrics to Smelly Defeat) is a hero(ine) in my book.

Angkor Wat

This is dark electro pop conceived by Niamh Corcoran, who I saw play support to Panda Bear earlier in the year.  While songs like Be Good pay homage to the Cocteau Twins, the more abrasive edge to Big/Little Edie (great Grey Gardens reference there!) shows another, gutsier side to her music. These are older tracks, so all I can think is ‘please release new music soon!’ Join me in asking her on Twitter.

Also:

Bantum, Milan Jay, John Vanderslice, Francis Heery, Sweet Bulbs.

****

What were your favourite musical moments of 2010?

Who are you looking forward to listening to more from in 2011?

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3 thoughts on “Forwards/Backwards

  1. I must say that up until October I hadn’t listened to James Blake and just decided he was overhyped and would fall by the wayside like so many others. Then I actually listened to him (particularly Limit To Your Love) and everything has blown me away.

    I think that this is the hardest thing that any new band has: actually getting people to listen to new music by new bands that maybe haven’t been hyped up. Radio 1 in England are doing a cool takeover at the moment (http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/jan/03/radio-1-daytime-takeover-playlist) but I just think that Irish bands have it so much harder. It is one thing being a ‘blogger’ and willingly listening to loads of new music but so many Irish acts like Angkorwat, Riot Tapes etc will probably never see daytime radio play in Ireland. I know it is something that has been talked about so often (a lot of times by Jim Carroll) but I really would like to see some of the music that the likes of Dan Hegarty and Paul McCloone play every night get at least a chance of getting played during Tubridy or Darcy or the other radio shows.

    Ok rant over. Sorry. Yay 2011. And Toro Y Moi are also amazingly good

    1. Rants always welcome!
      Thanks for the comment Eoghan.
      I was the same about James Blake, was a bit prematurely sniffy about him till I listened to the song for the second time and realised how great it was. I have an aversion to hype that turns me off some bands before I’ve even heard them, a bad habit I’m working on…!
      I agree it is hard for bands in one way to get noticed when there are so many bands around. I just hope that the best will get noticed but that doesn’t always happen.
      But still I love the fact we are exposed to so much new music these days, it blows my mind.
      I’m not sure if daytime radio programming will change anytime soon but I wish it did. I love being part of 2XM where we can play whatever we want, but of course there is a difference between digital and mainstream radio. But there are so many Irish bands that would sound great on daytime radio.

  2. maybe you were too busy patting yourself on the back/ helping haiti to notice that faith no more/adebisi shank was in 2009 , dumbass.

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