Saturday, 18 May 2019

New Irish Albums (May): Mongoose, RUNAH & The Man Whom

Mongoose - Suck the Wound - Album Review

In our latest round-up of new Irish album releases which have come out over the past month, we feature the sophomore albums Suck the Wound from Dublin contemporary folk quartet Mongoose, and The Dancer From the Dance by Wexford's The Man Whom. We also have a wonderful debut LP via Dublin-based atmospheric art-folk artist RUNAH, titled Strange.

1) Mongoose - Suck the Wound

Few Irish bands carve apart modern folk and put it back together again with so many different layers for the listener to explore in the manner that Mongoose do. Following on from their hugely successful self-titled debut in 2015, the four-piece open plenty of new doors for us to peep into on Suck the Wound

The opening title track is an empowering behemoth that sweeps away any feelings of anxiety or doubt right from the start, the dark tones and their seamless harmonies catch you in their trap in the most willing way early on on the LP. 'Hard Ground' shifts key in an instant, a confident jazzy strut which bursts apart at the 1:16 point, again that inspiring and assertive tone is so energising, there is sass everywhere.

More melancholic moods unfurl on the sad but beautiful 'Draw the Line', a slow rhythm and tempo ease themselves across the track, and her the lead vocal and harmonies take on an almost medieval ballad hue, hearts are broken, but new chapters open. A very warm highlight arrives on the wistful dirge of 'Sister', steeped in bare classical folk รก la Pentangle, the deep hum of the cello is brief but impacting, there is a lot of room for your ears to breathe here and soak it all up. 'While Away' picked me up and dropped me unceremoniously off at a dimly lit club in 1970's Greenwich Village, Joni vibes abound and every note trickles effortlessly off their instruments.

Lead single 'Body & Soul (For Cara)' arrives near the album's end, like what has come before, they execute the build expertly, but with more restraint, the melodies are enchantingly colourful as the percussion alternates between trundling passages and a slow metronome beat, it's a strangely beautiful and other-worldly experience. And that for me sums up in many ways Suck the Wound, it's a sprawling canvas of sounds, moods and themes, like one of those massive paintings you see taking up an entire wall in a French museum, you have to stand fully back to appreciate it (and attempt to) take it all in.

Key tracks: 'While Away', 'Suck the Wound', 'Body & Soul (For Cara)', 'Sisters', 'Draw the Line'

RUNAH - Strange

2) RUNAH - Strange

Another act that excels at arranging mysterious landscapes is Tara May, aka RUNAH, her sophomore EP Ghosts which was released towards the end of last year came from a place you'd never tire of wandering around. Strange is markedly different in many ways, from the jazz-tinged opener 'Winter' whose bass recalls Sneaker Pimps and early Massive Attack vibes, RUNAH tears up her own songbook on these 10 tracks.

Gently trembling strings vibrate in the background on second track 'Shame', the bass rumbles and those early shy strings push themselves into a position of prominence giving added energy and power to her vocal, not that it was needed. There is so much to delight in on 'Ground', like a modern day Connie Francis, we're in spaghetti-Western soundtrack territory here, the music ambles in a lethargic yet purposeful manner as the vocal stares deep into our eyes and souls.

The tenderness and alluring beauty of 'Something Like a Prayer' is nothing short of heart-breaking, the enchantress possesses our entire being, a potion of deep and heavy piano keys, almost inaudible strings and ominous bass that kicks in at 2:32 take the listener hostage and the Stockholm syndrome is strong and cannot be unbound. Majestic. Closing with its title-track (above video) a rare moment of brevity which provides both a release of tension and also a platform for the artist to show another hand in her musical deck. This is utterly contemporary sonically, bordering on electronic, one last imprint on the listener's brain that won't be erased anytime soon. Escapist, hypnotic, mystique, power and a harrowing beauty, RUNAH's debut album has an individuality and uniqueness whose abstract creativity must be celebrated.

Key tracks; 'Ground', 'Winter', 'Shame', 'Something Like a Prayer', 'Strange', 

3) The Man Whom - The Dancer From The Dance

Wexford's Ian Doyle, The Man Whom, released his much-lauded debut album The Greatest Event back in 2011, a mixture of melancholic and upbeat folk tracks with an alt-country hue, during which time the artist also made an appearance at Other Voices. Old man time has been nothing but kind to his song-writing in that 8 year intervening period, a glorious string-led introduction on the fittingly titled 'Time Reprise' makes a powerful opening impact, this is how you get back in the game.

'Saturdays She Plays Her Piano' is a thematically heavy and very real affair, opening with the line; "Once she was a singer in a jazz band, but that all ended when the kids came along, her piano now sits silent in the corner, locked key lost, buried in a drawer, and she says 'evidently I'm afraid of failure....'" Observance of the less happy twists and turns in life are a key feature in Doyle's lyrics, respectfully delivered with a benevolent vocal and moving musical passages.

'Pennies for the Poor Basket' is an interesting moment on the LP, a fulsome introduction makes way suddenly to the barest of bones, a delicate vocal and sparse acoustic guitar lead towards a meandering bass and piano sequence. A recollection of childhood memories seen through the prism of adulthood, and importantly leaving aside rose-tinted glasses.

For an album which regularly gravitates around a focal point of minimalism, The Man Whom is equally adept at producing grandiose orchestral flourishes, which are best captured on the captivating crescendos of 'Time', a track which initially disarms before pulling you out of your slumber to great heights. Towards album's end comes a key highlight in the form of 'Two Voices', an unusually morose warmth with a rich acoustic glow, again Doyle embraces simplicity in sound and rhythm because sometimes that just works far better than over-cooking. For a genre that I would probably not normally run to for gratification, The Man Whom has created an album which has far more depth than is initially noticeable on the surface, and more importantly, The Dancer From The Dance provides more than enough diversity to ensure longevity and repeated listens.

Key tracks; 'Time Reprise', 'Saturday She Plays Her Piano', 'Time', 'Pennies for the Poor Basket', 'Two Voices'