Friday, 19 April 2019

New Irish Albums (April): Old Hannah, Jamie Adam, Arms That Fit Like Legs! & Deaf Joe

Old Hannah - Borealis - Album Review

One of my most eagerly anticipated Irish albums of 2019 has been Old Hannah's Borealis, singles to date 'Find You' and 'The Way Light Falls on the Water' did much more than whetting the appetite, the latter of which has been my foremost companion in transit since its recent release. Jamie Adam has enthralled with his singles over the last 12 months and his debut LP Melodic Electronic is stuffed with singles, ear-worms, and ultra-happy moments. Dublin post-rock quartet Arms That Fit Like Legs! have been together for over ten years, their latest album Legwork is an abrasive sonic assault which grips, tears and pleases in the most enjoyably haphazard manner. From the delicate ambience of 2018's Stuck (oh my god single 'Where's Your Loving Gone' still gives ultra-chills), Waterford's Deaf Joe flips the table over on new album Love Stories, the vocals are fully shed on an arresting sea of minimalist noise.

1) Old Hannah - Borealis

A shift in sound from the contemporary folk of their earlier output, Old Hannah spread their wings on Borealis, but without slicing out their musical DNA in the process. Much of the album, despite its calming nature, is intensely powerful, there are multiple instances of heightened and overwhelming euphoria. The opening title-track glides the back of its hand gently across your cheek before thrusting you way beyond the ether of the present at the 2:04 mark, sporadic but sharp drums and Lucie Crichlow's vocal are like an overdose of a potion.

'Follow' is like the sister-track to 'The Way Light Falls on the Water', almost an intro for what is to come. Then comes 'Find You', sleepy brushes and acoustic guitars are the pillow underneath Luke Mercer's desperately comforting vocal, melancholy rarely provides such solace to the listener, it's humbly beautiful in every way. 'On the Road' is the most bittersweet moment on the album, a lot of space for us to contemplate on the lyrics; "Tell my mother that I'm coming home, tell my wife that it's going to be alright, tell my father that I did no wrong". I often think about the final message I would like to give to those closest to me, that I love the most, what would I write or say to them? How could I succinctly articulate my feelings? 

'The Way Light Falls on Water' encapsulates that power I mentioned earlier, quite simply a stunning piece of song-writing, mood, pace, beauty, sadness. Every little and big piece is a critical combination, the flute, Jesus, the harmonies have never sounded better, and the rhythm and rise are the point where the heart, soul and mind all get scooped up at once. Borealis is the type of album I dream about coming out in the year ahead around December / January such is its effect on me, easy shoe-in for the top end of all those end of year lists.

Key tracks: 'The Way Light Falls on Water', 'Find You', 'Borealis', 'On the Road'

2) Jamie Adam - Melodic Electronic

An artist with a fire in his belly, electro-pop wizard Jamie Adam can't help but concoct the most joyful and colourful sounds - loads of touchpoints that you think you can hear but just won't fit those round songs into square holes. Lazily MGMT / Peter Bjorn & John / Panda Bear I suppose. On Melodic Electronic it's a smorgasbord which won't let you settle on any one style, and that contrast is immediately apparent in the first two tracks. 'Nocturnal' is one of my absolute favourite singles, this is effervescent smile-inducing guitar-pop at its most addictive, that droning fat synth and big fuck off beat at the intro are just the best. 

Then 'Last Ones Down' goes down into the 80's dark synth-wave lake with house beats, soundtrack-level dance music that is primed for a really aggressive techno remix. 'The House That I Built' is chaotic and sees Adam reef the lid off his barrel of sounds and kick it over, we'll take a moment to acknowledge how suited his vocal is to what he's creating here. After a rippling break the fire is lit at 2:26 and the finale becomes more and more claustrophobic as the space narrows into the final seconds. If you want kitsch and brazen fun 'The Power' is where it's at, this is the beauty of going with your gut and indulging yourself, more bulging retro synth atmospherics and generous dance-inducing bops.

Laid-back, breezy, summer pop, it's 'Cold Blood', the reverbed guitar is to die for and shortly into the track Adam gives a perfectly-time rock injection before reverting back to the mellow. Day-glo sounds and trippy psychedelic vibes proliferate across the track. 'Your Decision' displays the final string in the bow of the album, crunching electronic glitches and thick fuzz batter the ears, tempered by a vocal that provides calm amidst the milieu of noise. Care-free as they come, Melodic Electronic is a very, very strong debut album by any measure.

Key tracks: 'Nocturnal', 'Cold Blood', 'The House That I Built', 'The Power'

3) Arms That Fit Like Legs! - Legwork

At the end of March the genre-spanning Arms That Fit Like Legs! dropped new album Legwork, opening with the instantly gripping electro-pop banger that is 'You Will Go On My First Whistle',  a vigorous blending of high-tempo beats and coil-springed electronic effects that swerves into meandering downtempo passages. A calmer jam unfolds on second track 'Will You To Lunch?', doffing it's cap to one of their self-proclaimed influences, The Redneck Manifesto', it also recalls Mogwai on uppers. 

ATFLL's float further south on the twinkling stream that is 'At Arms Length', a smooth and mood-laced journey into the subconsciousness, a forelorn circular warped effect holds the mechanical percussion and keys together as you slip deeper under its spell. Yet energy awaits, and alien landscapes are revealed gradually from behind the theatre curtain. A big highlight that caught my attention on Legwork is 'My Mind is Going', like Four Tet in their more openly accessible moments, the trundling rhythm is again central to conveying the mood and sprite-like chimes add an unarming (no pun intended) element to what unfolds. 

Following the bubbly and bass-heavy 'For Good Measure' ATFLL show us just how broad their sound can be, and diverse, on the sweet down-beat 'Try the Window'. Acoustic beginnings make way to shimmering echoed guitars, pace is the key, and it's executed well as the band push us further and further away from reality. It's rare a band can direct your mood and thought-process in so many direction across the course of just one album, yet on Legwork that's just what Arms That Fit Like Legs! have achieved. 

Key tracks: 'You Will Go On My First Whistle', 'My Mind is Going', Try the Window'

4) Deaf Joe - Love Stories

Also released at the end of March is Love Stories from Deaf Joe, and as mentioned, the shift in sound from his last LP is noticeable and interesting, in his own words; "The tracks are themed after the places I've been with some of the most important people in my life." The strongest link between the two albums being his innate ability to foment a broad canvas for the listener to explore, and most importantly, to abscond to at will.

It's a metaphor I use often when describing ambient music (obsession with science fiction), opener 'Taal Lake' begins in space, not down here on Earth, a gliding mass rotating through deep space in a lifeless vacuum. The multitudinous layers of sound grating against each other like tectonic plates in ever-increasing frequency. Goodbye brain, hello dream-state.

'Havnegade' ushers in a mixture of impending danger and subsequent flight, rippling urgently alongside a tense electronic beat, both moving dizzyingly to the background and forefront in tandem like a dance-off that probably isn't going to end well for one or both, but our fears were unfounded and the danger suddenly passes. 'Reynisfjara' is a black-sand beach in Iceland which is best known for how powerful and unpredictable its waves are, an apt choice of title for a track on this album. That lapping sound is either a harbinger of something unwelcome or merely a warning of what it could become if the wrong choices are made. The swell of energy begins to reach its peak just before the 3-minute mark as the thudding beat gets so wound up it feels like it's going to blow everything in the vicinity to smithereens once it snaps. Alas, once again, Deaf Joe leads us to safety, the juxtaposition of fear and shelter are a unique listening experience for me, and I like it a lot.

From the more relaxed and free-flowing 'Ocean Beach' comes the wonderfully vivid and inspiring 'Cambodian Sirens', an incredible example of how sound without words can tell a story. When you hear the daily comings and going of life and muffled voices playing out underneath the music it feels like post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia learning to build a new future, but the screech of the 'sirens' are a potent warning and a dark cloud that dare you to forget the past. Which Deaf Joe is going to show up next? I love not knowing, but knowing I'll love it.

Key tracks: 'Taal Lake', 'Havnegade', 'Cambodian Sirens', 'Reynisfjara'

Deaf Joe - Love Stories - Album Review