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Anois Os Ard: Irish Underground Music For March Reviewed By Eoin Murray
Eoin Murray , March 8th, 2021 09:33

In the eighth edition of our column on the sounds of Irish undergrowth, Eoin Murray finds feverish noise rock, “intelligent frog music”, fictional audio tours, field recordings, folk songs and much more

The Gaelic festival of Imbolc signifies the emergence of light from the darkness, and the natural restoration of the landscape. Celebrated on 1 February, the festival – also known as Saint Brigid’s Day – symbolises the hope for good luck in the year ahead, and the promise of spring peering through the winter fog.

This year, Imbolc also marked the release of the Lee Lines (Landscape Mixtape), a 47-track collection from the Department of Energy label. Featuring contributions from Irish artists at home and abroad, the release loosely explores themes of “the rural, the riparian and the gothic”, and comprises everything from field recordings, spoken word pieces and raw one-take instrumentals into droning electronics, dewy beats, and all manner of combinations in between.

Assembled quickly, and intentionally left unpolished and unrefined, the mixtape captures the Irish experimental music community in a chrysalis state, transitioning from one year into the next with an act of shared creativity and consciousness. With the Irish landscape as its backdrop, and the immovable deadline of Saint Brigid’s day as its aesthetic prompt, Lee Lines (Landscape Mixtape) proved to be the perfect soundtrack for the start of 2021: one composed by a countrywide community, summoning its own rebirth after a year of uncertainty and separation.

“I'm interested in ideas in their rawest state – the instinctive moment before rationality creeps in and sucks the life out of something,” says the DOE’s Dan Callanan, who reached out to as many artists as he could at the start of January via WhatsApp voice message, wanting to curate the project with as few emails as possible to make it feel “less like work and more like an organic process”. Contributors were encouraged to dig into their archives for raw materials, or create new pieces with their imperfections embraced.

The mixtape comes paired with a 36-page zine, which the DOE are in the process of finalising. Visual research, screenshots and photographs assembled for the project will be processed through a “chaos code” created by designer Kylièn Sarino Bergh, and placed alongside written notes, poems and messages from contributors. “Like the mixtape, there won't be much time spent on refinement,” says Callanan.

The mixtape premiered as a continuous mix on Dublin Digital Radio on 1 February, finding its home on a station that has proved to be a central hub for the Irish music scene in the past year, and which itself released a sprawling compilation to celebrate its fourth anniversary in December.

Notions of shared release, coping, collaboration and re-constellation crop up again and again in this month’s column, which features feverish noise rock, “intelligent frog music”, fictional audio tours, field recordings, folk songs and more. Here’s hoping we can hear some of these sounds together by the time Imbolc rolls around next year.

In the meantime, éistigí.

Various Artists – Still, Life
(Indie Cork)

Still, Life is dedicated to the memory of Günther Berkus, whose piece ‘Autumn Came Gently To Shandon This Year’ closes this 17-track lockdown compilation with a luminescent, droning flourish. The German sound artist, who played alongside Kraftwerk’s Ralf Hütter and members of Popol Vuh, moved to Cork in 1981, and became a linchpin of the county’s avant-garde music scene, which has enjoyed a healthy creative boom in recent years.

Berkus – who died in September 2020 after years of living with MS – has a subtle influence over Still, Life, which was curated by the IndieCork festival team to help support and motivate local artists in the early stages of the pandemic. Fog-drenched electronics underpin haunting vocal pieces by Mantua, Elaine Howley & Roisin Kelly, and Danny McCarthy, while freeform expressionism rattles through Fixity’s motorik noise jams and Dock Collective’s improvised concrète minimalism. Even in the more structured tracks by Nudy Boy Nature, John Byrne and the Skeletal Showband, and Sam Clague, there’s a sense of Berkus’ creative work, transmitted through artists getting to grips with unpredictable global change.

(Art For Blind)

GASH COLLECTIVE have been creating opportunities for women and LGBTQ+ electronic artists in Ireland since 2016. On their first compilation, released via Sligo label Art For Blind, the collective celebrate a range of sounds, covering warped aquatic club frequencies, bubbling percussion and alchemised distortion.

GASH co-founder ELLLL and Sculptress scan the depths of submerged dancefloors on ‘Toe Jump Loop’ and ‘Chiron’, with gurgling effects and depth-charge rhythms coursing through dense blankets of sound design. Gadget & The Cloud’s ‘Pulse’ pulls that atmosphere to the surface with a buoyant, off-kilter beat and melodic beams of light, while Syn’s ‘Full Moon’ is a drum-fuelled breach, shooting straight for the sky.

Irene Buckley and Anna Murray stir cauldrons of viscous noise and bass on ‘Turning’ and ‘RNDR 5’, orbiting the eruptive centrepiece that is Caskré’s ‘Gyda Terfsgaeth Gyson’: an electrical storm of pure propulsion for fans of UKAEA and co.

Ten Past Seven – Long Live The Bogwalrus
(Art For Blind)

Also out on Art For Blind, Long Live The Bogwalrus ends with a feverish noise rock “bastardisation” of ‘Mininsko Horo’, a traditional Balkan folk tune made famous by Planxty in 1974. Grizzly guitar and bass lines link arms and lurch around one another, propped up by febrile drum freak outs and a euphoric fiddle guest spot from Lankum’s Cormac MacDiarmada. It’s wild, and made all the wilder by its dizzying visuals, in which we witness the titular walrus-man-thing going appropriately apeshit in a field somewhere. You can’t help but feel jealous of his frantic exorcism, a strobing high-kick energy purge.

It’s the perfect conclusion to the Kerry trio’s first release in eight years; a timely eruption of a decade’s worth of pent-up Bog Prog™. Over the course of nine tracks, the longstanding live outfit unleash their heaviest gear to date, recorded in Guerilla Studios with the help of John ‘Spud’ Murphy and Ian Chestnutt. Coarse riffs, writhing bass grooves and galloping drum frenzies invoke the gravelly golden era of Ireland’s mid-00s math rock scene, while distorted clouds of reverb and melody will make you crave the cathartic noise of a proper live show.

(Disintegration State)

What you hear is what you get on this album of pure, improvised goodness from Cork duo MueseuM. Darren Keane and Arthur Pawsey dive happily into a freeform kosmische wormhole, tinkering on new equipment and recording each track in one take - No overdubs, no problem. The resulting tape is one that puts you right in the studio with them, plonked among the wires, FX units, mics, bass guitars and drum machines as they concoct their simple, satisfying brew.

Fans of Oren Ambarchi will find a lot to love in in the rumbling warmth of tracks like ‘DONTNOD’ and ‘Eva Can I See Bees In A Cave’, while ‘Satan Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas’ sizzles and pops playfully at the centre of a collection that retains a charming depth, while never taking itself too seriously.

Frog Of Earth – Frog Of Earth

The uncanny world Mel Keane builds as Frog Of Earth is one you’ll find yourself exploring again and again. In a mysterious ecosystem of babbling ambient electronics, amorphous beats and vibrant melodic swirls, we join our amphibious friend as it contemplates and reacts to its ever-shifting surroundings. The liner notes for the release describe the frog as it fends off panic and confusion, and tries to find peace in a world that doesn’t make sense anymore, before realising that acceptance is the key. The message, if you can call it that, is a stoic one, and makes the escapist adventure of this album all the more enticing and transcendent.

The most fun thing about these nine tracks is how unclassifiable they are (the Bandcamp tags take a stab with Intelligent Frog Music). From the melodies that blossom in ‘Lying Down’, the squelching bass of ‘Newt Dub’ and the rustling alien groove of ‘OY SEH UM’, to the triumphant flourish in ‘The Mouth’, the more time you spend with Frog of Earth, the more lucid its little world becomes.

Various Artists – Lidl Museum Of Ancient And Contemporary Art Audio Tour
(The Ecliptic Newsletter)

In October 2020, a new Lidl opened on Aungier street in Dublin. Built on the remains of an 11th century medieval house and an 18th century theatre, parts of the store have a glass floor, through which shoppers can admire the foundations, and read facts about the site’s history. It forms the thematic basis for Lidl Museum Of Ancient And Contemporary Art, an experimental “audio tour” through imagined histories and surrealist futures, where the artefacts of capitalism and consumption are irreversibly woven into the psychedelic palimpsest of Ireland’s cultural fabric.

Comprising original music, covers and spoken sketches, contributions to this hour-long audio collage come from the likes of Acid Granny, Robbie Kitt, Jennifer Moore, Davy Kehoe, Eimear Walshe and more. Amid the dialogue and in-store sounds, there’s weird electronics and Gregorian chants, ad jingles and folk songs, a robotic cover of ‘On Raglan Road’ and a disorienting national anthem mash-up. At face value, it’s pure escapism. Scratch beneath the surface though, and you’re confronted with something more considered: a half-joked suggestion that, in the post-Celtic Tiger landscape, somewhere like Lidl can hold as much significance for young creative communities as any state-sanctioned cultural institution. It may sound strange, but take a trip through the daft aisles of this tape and tell me you’re not a little convinced.

This Ship Argo – Always The Bees: Never The Honey

On her new album, Belfast’s Aileen McKenna, aka This Ship Argo, learns to trust her creative instinct. Originally titled Sink Or Swim, McKenna painstakingly sketched and hand-edited an old photo of waves crashing against a pier, certain that it should be the album’s artwork. Nothing she tried seemed to work, until she stumbled upon the words of an old Irish curse: “May you find the bees, but not the honey”. Soon, something clicked, and the album’s new title and floral artwork came together with a natural assurance.

It’s just one instance of the intuition that guides this album: a transportive collection of minimal electronic compositions, tender vocals and environmental motifs. Kaleidoscopic synth lines flow freely in the spirit of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, feeling instinctive and organic. Handwritten liner notes describe an approach to lyricism rooted in whatever words appeared when McKenna opened her mouth (which are later edited, their significance uncovered in the process).

Make no mistake, Always The Bees: Never The Honey is beautifully composed and carefully assembled, and the lyrics confront personal topics with a poise that can stop you in your tracks. The intuition that guides the record, however, bolsters it with a sense of determination, of faith in one’s voice, and a promise that we have a lot to look forward to from this emerging artist.

Fehdah – Kinematics

No stranger to this column, Fehdah released her first new EP since 2017 in December. Following the buoyant experimental R&B single ‘Day In Shock’ last summer, Kinematics is a four-tracker of agile grooves and glittering electronic Afrofuturism. Nodding to her background in astrophysics, the Dublin artist references theories and terms relating to force and movement throughout the EP, pairing perfectly with the subtle momentum that courses through its run-time, and with Fehdah’s own creative journey in the past three years.

Soulful vocals curl and swerve through crisp electronic melodies and beats, at points soaring with the confidence of a hitmaker, while at others veering into rap verse or altered, FX-adorned experimentalism. Fehdah’s own voice is complemented by collaborations with Limerick’s Denise Chaila and emerging Galway MC Celaviedmai on ‘Two Body Problem’ and ‘Joules’. The former balances gorgeous harp samples with deep bass plumes, while both voices flow nimbly on a skittering beat. ‘Joules’, meanwhile, is a syncopated dancefloor roller with lyrics spanning mythology and interdimensional travel, emphasising both artists’ individual, cosmic mobility, and a sense that neither will be slowing down any time soon.

A Multitude Of Everything – Everything Is Broken
(Circle Of Dolphins)

Described as a “discordant data dump of multiple streams and crumbling realties”, the latest offering from Irish-born, Berlin-based artist A Multitude Of Everything is, frankly, fairly stressful. In a fun way. With a plunderphonic hodge-podge of vocal recordings, environmental audio, YouTube clips and disjointed electronic instrumentation, they manage to wring melody – and a lot of emotion – out of the strangest places.

A lockdown album with a twist, Everything Is Broken taps into the hyperactivity, indulgence, loneliness and adaptation of our digital lives during the pandemic: like bursting into tears while down a late-night YouTube hole. Inspired by drone, ambience and lo-fi as well as Irish folk, techno and baroque music, the most overtly musical moments on the album creep up on you, and are all the more striking for it. ‘Zoom Love Feat William Hedderman’ closes proceedings with a cinematic musical backdrop, which plays behind a drunken chat, bringing a flourish of tenderness to an addictively off-kilter collection.

Katie Gerardine O'Neill – Message Green

Katie Gerardine O'Neill’s Message Green explores “the profundity of nature, the necessity of solitude, and the importance of being in touch with one’s inner voice”. Over the course of just 17 minutes, the Dublin artist makes use of field recordings, tape loops and organ drones to soundtrack a photographic narrative, in which we find weeds, flowers and ivy creeping their way through the cracks in urban landscapes.

Using a combination of digital techniques as well as 8mm analogue film, Polaroid and 35mm, O’Neill’s images and video clips are accompanied by brief written “visualisations'', inspired as much by Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit and Charlie Kaufman’s recent novel Antkind as they are by the writings of Jon Kabat-Zinn and The Tao Te Ching.

Making use of O’Neill’s fascination with “derelict spaces, spaces in decay, [and] abandoned spaces”, Message Green is a beautifully crafted piece of audiovisual collage, and an invitation to escape into those quiet spaces within ourselves, and to find some beauty in the weeds we find creeping through.