Info: In what has been another incredible year for independent Irish music, we bring the first of our round-ups of the best music of 2016. Starting off with the Top 20 Irish EP's to be reviewed over the course of the year, in order of when they appeared, other than Remy's Music and Film's Irish EP of The Year which is at the end of this post, I've also included a Spotify Playlist for your convenience, so you can take in this massively talented bunch at your leisure. A huge thanks to all of the acts for sending such wonderful music my way over the last 12 months and bringing so much joy to my wanting ears!
20. Laura Ryder - haiku
"If the second half of haiku was as good as the first half I would have said that this is an impressive E.P., but it's better. 'Freeze / Fall' (top) puts the song-writing into song-writer, a story enveloped in warm and ancient musical sounds, the violin (courtesy of Aisling Bridgewell) perfectly if unintentionally painting a traditionally Irish / pagan Celtic mood, night-time in the misty woods before a ritual, with Ryder's voice describing the scene to our imaginations."
19. Pine The Pilcrow - Pine The Pilcrow
"Much of the EP’s quality comes from Pine the Pilcrow’s tendency to draw from various genres without fully committing to any: folksy violin plays off cinematic chordal builds, much in the way that Warren Ellis and Nick Cave conjure their musical storms, or how the Frames became masterful at bending and blending modern indie and folk to their own ends. And these songs relish setting up atmospheric cloudbursts and drawing tension from watching the inevitable drama unfold."
18. Brass Phantoms - City of Wolves
"The raucous finale of distorted guitars and drums land one last punch before they decide to give us about 20 seconds respite with a Pixies-esque bass-line and twangy guitar outro. On City of Wolves Brass Phantoms have done pretty much everything right, there's little room for improvement, as pop-tinged rock goes they have nailed it with their song-writing and successfully achieved what they set out to do."
17. Segrasso - Jokes To Tell
"This is the third EP on the bounce now where Segrasso have beguiled us with pleasant surprises and notable progressions both in style and sound, achieving such consistency is not easy and few of their contemporaries could manage the same, it's time they reached a wider audience as they are undoubtedly one of the finest alternative rock bands in this country for over 2 years now."
16. Oh Joy - Joy For All
"By the time you've waded through the first few bars of final track 'Mons' you realise the band are sitting on a potential 4 singles out of 5 which is some achievement for an EP release. 'Mons' is frustrated and lamenting, as well as ambitious in its reach, guitars bend and soar in and around the vocals and our ears, it's like a snapshot of where Oh Joy have come from since their new inception began, everything feels poured into this last track."
15. Kate Dineen - Great Escape
"I really like Great Escape and can see myself coming back to it again and again, it felt at times like it was flirting with more pop-oriented sounds, like First Aid Kit without the bling, but it restrained itself. This is definitely an area Kate Dineen could comfortably reside in, but I think it was important that she created a collection of songs which strongly reflect who she is as a musician, and where she's come from, which she has managed to do successfully here."
14. Just Mustard - Just Mustard
"From the opening of first track 'Gingham Skin' you immediately get where Just Mustard are in terms of their sound, it traverses from the shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine, to the experimental fuzz of Sonic Youth and at times The Dandy Warhols debut album. The wry line; 'There's more to life than chocolate spread' summarising the bands nonchalant mood across the five tracks. Fans of many genres will love this EP, shoegaze, dream pop, lo-fi and even post-punk and rock, the Dundalk band should and will be heard by many following this solid and wholesome release."
13. Ealadha - Limit Of Our Sight
"This is a collection of songs I've had to impatiently sit on for a while, eager to share, Ealadha from Cork have produced an intensely enjoyable post-rock and ambient EP in Limit of Our Sight. Opener 'Hurricanes' is such a good introduction to the trio, an amalgamation of moody instrumental and lightly distorted guitars coupled with unobtrusive thrashing drums and passion-driven vocals."
12. THUMPER - Magnum Opuss
"'The dizzying and unbridled chaos of distorted guitars and vocals coupled with commanding and manic drumming throw you into the best of Seattle grunge and fuzzed out lo-fi rock n' roll...with their trademark sonic ear-bleeding, (this is) quality stuff from an exhilarating act."
11. Nix Moon - Soul Traffic
"Nix Moon clearly have a tonne of musical talent. They’ve also already shown a lust for experimentation. These two things together provide a combination that could result in the Dundalk band becoming unstoppable. The Soul Traffic E.P is a fantastic leap in that direction."
10. Variant Sea - Fable
"On closing number, 'Remains', Variant Sea are at their transcendental best, it's like standing alone at the mouth of a cave and calling out into the never-ending darkness, this is what the response would be. At times it feels like the music is hewn out of some ancient stone and pours freely from their instruments across the land. To quote Keats; 'a thing of beauty, is a joy forever', and so it is with the second (and indeed first) EP from Variant Sea, the two melded together would form a wonderful film score..."
9. The Pickled Onions - The Woods
"Perhaps the most pleasing thing about The Pickled Onions' E.P. is how McGovern has served up five very distinct pieces of song-writing, loosely sticking within an open psychedelic / indie set of boundaries but coming from all sorts of angles within."
8. Rocstrong - SOWYG
"In essence Rocstrong has created an incredibly enjoyable collection of tracks and honed his sound to near pop-perfection, when I think of what type of music makes me happy and want to move the usual suspects all spring to mind from the purple patch of the genre in the 80's. Here though, it's the same effect with a different approach, by adding the catchiest elements of rock, funk and soul to his base of pop, it feels like Rocstrong is ripping up the rule book, not throwing it out mind, just rearranging the pages beyond recognition, and with highly rewarding results."
7. Saramai - Magnetic North
"Third track 'Heavenly' starts with a superb echoed guitar riff with shades of Mark Knopfler, and Saramai's vocals have possibly never sounded so crystal clear and captivating, it's a stunning vocal performance which grabs you and then gently lets go half-way through before soaring away. One of the most glaring conclusions to be reached after listening to Magnetic North in it's entirety is that we have easily one of the finest vocalists in the country right now in Leech, and this is again reiterated on final track, 'Ships'."
6. Sun.Set.Ships - Man.Must.Explore
"Man.Must.Explore is musically and thematically right up my street and I enjoyed many moments across it, it's also clear Sun.Set.Ships have enough variance in the locker to build on this sound and let their creative juices flow further."
5. Orchid Collective - Courage
"As the curtain comes down on Courage certainty is reached that we have one of the best Irish E.P.'s of 2016 on our hands. It's a joy to hear such talent, observe such strong song-writing and admire such lovingly crafted songs together in one place."
4. Junk Drawer - For The Cult Fat Guy
"For The Cult Fat Guy lavishes the rock fan with everything they want to hear and experience in the modern age. The fact that there is a diversity of sounds and influences, which at times are quite stark when put side by side, is evidence that Junk Drawer are no one trick pony and have got their sound exactly where they want it at this point in time, much to our benefit."
3. Insufficient Funs - Insufficient Funs
"Opener 'evilOlive' is just such an excellent start to the EP, the brooding saxophone is deep and gets us off to a pulsating start alongside the almost casual rhythm of the percussion. It's cool for sure, slick, and maybe the most contemporary sounding track on the collection. This EP (is) intricate, thoughtful and very accessible, easy to imagine in a live setting and gives so much variety across it's almost 30 minutes that it feels just as much like a story as a piece of music, a rewarding experience for me."
2. Galants - Galants
"There is no let up, if the deceivingly titled 'Juan' made you think that we were being prepared for a soft-landing, the band are having none of it, and why would they, they are doing what they excel at, and it gets better and better as the EP progresses. At times they are restrained, but ultimately Galants pulverise you in the most enjoyable manner a rock fan could wish for with their brand of multi-genre rock."
Galway-based post-punk outfit Drown released their self-titled debut EP this year, and it deservedly gets our Irish EP of the Year. Drown is a superb collection of four completely quality tracks and is nothing but immensely enjoyable from start to finish. Coupled with the fact that they also provided me one of the best live performances of the year when they ripped up the stage at The Workman's Club recently, this is a release that I will continually come back to for a long time to come.
The Top 20 Playlist: