Anois, Os Ard: July In Irish Underground Music Reviewed By Eoin Murray

In the tenth edition of our column on the sounds emanating from the Irish undergrowth, Eoin Murray finds arboreal sound art and speaks to Lankum’s Ian Lynch about his Fire Draw Near podcast

How did a musical motif from 19th century Scotland pass through the Irish piping tradition, get recorded in America, and end up being interpreted by the English anarcho punk band, Subhumans, in the 90s? What thread connects an Irish anti-war song, originating from an English country dance tune from 1651, to Metallica’s ‘One’? How did a farmer’s lament for a cow (a personification of Ireland itself) morph and develop over hundreds of years to be reimagined by artists around the world, from Lead Belly Ledbetter to Nana Mouskouri? What the hell is the ‘Irish Mambo’?

These are just some of the questions posed by Fire Draw Near, a podcast by Ian Lynch that “investigates traditional Irish music and songs in all of its myriad forms”. Lynch, who is better known as one quarter of Dublin contemporary folk group Lankum, whose 2019 album The Livelong Day was acclaimed for its apocalyptic interpretations of traditional songs, digs deep into the Irish musical canon in his monthly dispatch, and unearths incredible sounds and performances along the way.

Before Lankum took off, Lynch lectured in UCD’s Irish, Celtic Studies and Folklore department and worked at the Irish Traditional Music Archive. He launched Fire Draw Near on Dublin Digital Radio at the end of 2019, after a one-off show with his band on NTS resparked the researcher’s part of his brain he felt he’d been neglecting.

“I think I had been afraid of not being expert enough to do a show based on Irish music,” Lynch says. “But after NTS I realised that, much like making music itself, the most important thing is to be honest to your own personal relationship with it.”

Lockdown gave Lynch time to focus, and the podcast has thrived. Some episodes dig down into specific themes, such as the musical links between Ireland and the Caribbean, Irish songs of social protest, bawdry ballads (a Valentine’s Day special), and ancient pipe music from around the world. Others take a less precise, but no less entertaining approach; one episode boasts “distorted accordions, tunes learned from the Otherworld, Bronze Age war horns and punk rock piping jigs”.

“When I started I just wanted to share obscure recordings that I’d come across over the years,” says Lynch. “But after a few episodes I started to come across unexpected connections and crossovers between Irish traditional music and all kinds of other genres, so that’s one aspect of the show that has evolved very organically.”

“I think the ways in which songs and music can cross over cultural, national and linguistic boundaries can be quite numinous, and hard to capture in concrete terms,” he continues. “Sometimes the only proof we have of such a thing happening is that someone happened to be recorded singing a certain song. This happened in Ireland a few times, where people were recorded singing English songs that had disappeared from the oral tradition over there over 100 years previously. I think it’s a fascinating process and can teach us all kinds of things, from processes of dispersal in traditional oral culture to how singers in the past viewed the songs that they sang, and chose to sing songs that spoke to them with no kind of inbuilt nationalist-based preferences at play.”

Bonus episodes of the podcast, made available first to those subscribed to Fire Draw Near’s Patreon, find Lynch going deep into histories of specific songs and tunes, charting their evolutions over centuries and countries. A three-episode special on ‘The Wild Rover’, which Lankum themselves covered on The Livelong Day, is particularly mesmerising; Lynch documents its journey from 17th century England, through Scotland, North America and Australia, before its arrival in Ireland to become the song most people recognise today.

“It’s really interesting to see that although some songs can survive and speak to something very deep in the human condition, they can nonetheless change in their social functions,” says Lynch. “Although [‘The Wild Rover’] started out life as an English song promoting temperance, it’s now widely regarded as an Irish drinking anthem, even though the words haven’t changed too much over the years. People find new meanings in the same words, and it’s always important to keep in mind that someone singing the same song 100, 50 or even 20 years ago could have had a very different connection and understanding of that song than we have now. But I think a good song can easily retain this multiplicity of meaning.

“One recognisable trait of all forms of folklore is that, while the outer appearance may change and shift over the years to suit the culture it is currently in, the core remains unchanged.

Lynch isn’t fixated on the past however, and Fire Draw Near also features music from contemporary artists. Many of these musicians are pushing the conventions of Irish traditional music in new, experimental directions (he praises John Francis Flynn, whose debut album lands later this month), while others, he points out, are innovating in ways more in tune with the customs of the tradition. Both, he says, are as vital and necessary as each other. “I think that while some people are very experimental in their outlook as a performer or as an artist, you will hear them at a session and they will be playing straight traditional tunes. I don’t think there is any contradiction here, and the tradition is strong enough to withstand this.”

With an interest in Irish traditional music and culture growing among the island’s young people, Fire Draw Near is providing a fun, educational and accessible pathway into its endless sonic rabbit holes. Listening to it, the breadth of innovation, songcraft and raw human artistry in Ireland’s musical history becomes clearer, and both its acute and subtle impacts on the country’s modern underground feel more tangible and alive.

In this month’s column, you’ll find arboreal sound art, avant-garde pop, hazy hip hop, psych rock and a whole lot more. Éistigí

Eimear Reidy & Natalia Beylis – Whose Woods These Are

Described as an arboreal research project rather than an album, this triptych of whirring strings, improvised piano, electronics and field recordings takes its title from a line in Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping By Woods’. The poem, which describes those woods “so lovely, dark and deep”, entered the public domain on 1 January 2021, and so now belongs to no one, and everyone at the same time. Cellist Reidy and experimental all-rounder Beylis conjure the otherworldly wonder of the forest in these pieces: ‘The Sloes Made Sweet’ hovers like dusk light between leaves, ominous and intoxicating. ‘They Rustle And Blink In The Hawthorn’ is a kosmische moonrise: an odyssey of drones, chirruping keys and birdsong. The winding cello and organ drones of ‘A Shelter Of Junipers’ wrap around one another like the roots of ancient trees, like Oliver Coates compositions encased in dirt. Beylis has been vocal on the subject of environmental justice, and the protection of Ireland’s woodlands; both she and Reidy hosted a Festival Of Trees in December last year. This collection imagines a world where they too are in the public domain – collectively protected and adored. If that’s not enough, Reidy has also released a new cassette on Leitrim’s Hypnagogic Tapes. Venture into the nocturnal cello depths of Things That Happened At Sea: A Short Story In Several Parts. If you’re keen to stay in the woods a little longer, Mark Waldron-Hyden has released a tape on London’s Sensory Leakage label. The 25-minute ‘Trees As A Musical Controller’ does exactly what it says on the trunk, with the Cork artist sculpting a percussive composition purely out of arboreal field recordings.

DeepInTheWoods66 – Self Help Tapes vol. 2

On Self Help Tapes vol. 2, Wicklow producer and engineer Tommy O’Sullivan invites an international cast of artists into his dystopian musical world. Joined by regular, core collaborators Neil Kilkenny, ex-Solar Bear Rian Trench and Chris Con, the 12-track album is one of collective sonic catharsis, shared between musicians across the country and beyond. While recorded remotely, there is nonetheless a communal feel to this collection, which encompasses grizzly noise rock, eerie hip hop, cosmic punk, haunting pop and more in its explorations of frustrated, furious themes. The core quartet are joined by the likes of ex-Minutemen/Stooges bassist Mike Watt, Kilkenny MC Captain Moonlight, sisters Karen and Aoife Hammond, John “Spud” Murphy, sound engineer and musician Ruth Kennington, and more. The moments of seething darkness and anger (‘I Just Want To Be Left The Fuck Alone’, ‘It’s The End Of The Fucking World’, ‘Don’t Say A Word’) are tempered by tender moments of blissed-out release (‘The New Machine’) and even, at the very end, a suggestion of optimism (‘Hallelujah Holy Remix’). If ever there was a recording studio to shelter in for the apocalypse, let it be this one.

SORBET – This Was Paradise
(Bureau B)

As a producer, Belfast’s Chris Ryan has helped sculpt releases by the likes of Just Mustard, NewDad and Junk Drawer, while his output as drummer and bandleader in Robocobra Quartet blends elements of jazz, spoken word and post punk. His latest venture, SORBET, sees him exploring new territory, assembling disparate collaborators and influences into a symphonic sonic space at the intersection between neo-classical composition and avant-garde pop experimentation. Inspired in part by Milton’s Paradise Lost, This Was Paradise unfurls in sweeps of epic movement. The album is tied together by three cinematic compositions, ‘(Paradise)’, ‘(Purgatory)’ and ‘(Hell)’, in which orchestral arrangements are fed through subtle fogs of electronic sound. These pieces serve to accentuate the LP’s expertly crafted songs, from the silky trip hop of ‘The Chamber’ and Cluster-like ‘Beaming Signals’ to the ominous chamber-pop of ‘I Heard His Scythe’ featuring Maija Sofia and ‘Only For The Young’ featuring Arborist.

Mícheál Keating & Brendan McInerney – ‘It’s Still There’

Limerick’s Bleeding Heart Pigeons have carved a curious niche for themselves in the Irish music landscape. The trio have released two albums of pristine psychedelic pop and epic synth-led indie rock, earning them every right to play a festival mainstage slot, while simultaneously boasting an experimental stance that sets them apart from anything you’ll hear on drivetime radio. Helmed by vocalist, guitarist and producer Mícheál Keating (who also features on SORBET’s album), the group’s knack for a catchy hook (and, boy, do they have hooks) is matched only by a tendency to swerve down wild, technicolor wormholes. A year on from the release of the mighty Stir, it’s a treat to hear two thirds of the group, Keating and drummer Brendan McInerney, go fully apeshit on ‘It’s Still There’. The pair strip away any of the Horrors-esque gloss heard in their previous work, offering instead a noisy ten-minute juggernaut. Hinged on a tight-but-jagged beat and howling distorted guitars, the duo invoke Snapped Ankles and Girl Band. Despite the ferocity, the track retains an irresistible groove, its eerie three word refrain lingering like a nightmare, its subtle vocal hum calling like a siren.

Rory Sweeney – I Like You

Dublin’s Bitten Twice Collective have been setting off fireworks across Ireland’s electronic underground for a little over a year now. Specialising in experimental rave sounds and off-kilter rhythms, releases from founders Julia Louise Knifefest and Fomorian Vein have fused breakcore and harsh noise with acrobatic trap vocals, merging hardcore punk ferocity with digital percussive mayhem. Rory Sweeney has been the most prolific of the lot. His prolific Bandcamp output encompasses jungle, footwork, house, hip hop and ambient, laid out like a buffet of electronic oddities and roughly-sketched experiments. His latest five-track offering touches on all that and more, but leans further into drill and grime on collaborations with Belfast MC Emby, and Dublin’s Ahmed, with Love. There’s a febrile energy to Rory Sweeney’s music, which speaks to the pent-up giddiness of the country’s new wave rave scene. Once things reopen, there’ll be no stopping it.

NUXSENSE – A Sacred Journey Through The Golden Path

Dublin hip hop troupe NUXSENSE are one of the most exciting units in the country’s ever-flourishing hip hop scene. On an individual level, its members have released strings of striking singles and projects, including Luthorist’s celestial ‘Hueco Mundo’ and Jehnova and Iod’s new mixtape Avenoir, which was reviewed in May’s column. Completed by fellow MCs REM$, AL.I and Bogzy, alongside producer sivv, the group’s members have origins in country’s including Philippines, Nigeria, South Africa, Romania, and Brazil, and represent Ireland’s increasingly multicultural landscape, and the thrilling creative movements that are bursting from its young musical communities. A Sacred Journey Through The Golden Path is NUXSENSE’s debut album proper, following their 2017 mixtape Non-Linear. The ten tracks demonstrate the group’s talents in full effect: Sivv’s atmospheric boom-bap beats float under deft lyrical flows, with short song lengths just serving to make it more addictive. You’ll be coming back to this one again and again on hazy summer evenings.

Susan Geaney/ David Lacey – Tempf
(Fort Evil Fruit)

It’ll come as no surprise when listening to Tempf that Susan Geaney studied under Pauline Oliveros. This 34-minute collaboration between the Kerry composer/ improviser and Dublin’s David Lacey unfolds with the same meditative focus as the deep listening pioneer’s influential works; it invites you to adjust your breathing to its slow, sustained rhythm, and to focus entirely on its deep acoustic pulse. Recorded remotely this Spring, Geaney’s flute and melodica drones are punctuated by Lacey’s gong-like tones. Harmonised hums drift and expand like a breeze through trees, varying in intensity and continuously enveloping. Its radical simplicity channels Oliveros’ Sonic Meditations, and the more you tune into its frequency, the more you’ll feel elevated by it.


Laura Kilty’s latest for Eotrax is an exploration of catharsis. The singer, composer and producer, who also forms one half of noeverything with label boss Eomac, unleashes grief through wordless vocalisations, layered like a ghostly choir and cloaked in haunting synths. These four pieces chart a journey from the depths of pain into the promise of hope: a reminder that even in the pits of darkness, faint glimmers of light may soon break through.

Tuath – Research & Development

Donegal psych outfit Tuath describe their new EP as the sound of “a summery stoned day at the beach”. It’s hard to argue with the description, but to settle on that would be to ignore the significance of the subjects these four tracks explore. Hazy shoegaze guitars and Stereolab-like grooves underpin lyrics confronting homelessness, the surveillance state and the scourge of capitalism. The creation of the EP itself took some time, with ideas for tracks coming together gradually over the course of a few years. Frontman Robert Mulhern used the focussed finalising process as a means to confront his own ADHD, which has previously affected some of his musical pursuits, turning them into “formlessness and unfinished ideas that built up like a plaque until recently”. It’s something he also explored on a recent track, ‘A.D.H.Diablos In musica’. All that said, Research & Development is a breezy listen, featuring a cosmic collaboration with Lunch Machine’s Jude Barriscale and more than enough space-out jams to tide you over until summer fizzles away.

Louise Gaffney – Not Even Here

There’s a feeling that emerges when something is almost gone: an anticipatory loss, a pre-emptive missing. It’s a sensation Louise Gaffney captures across the five tracks on Not Even Here, her debut solo work. Delicate synth motifs crumble as the production is ‘taped and re-taped’, removing all polish to let The Come On Live Long vocalist’s bittersweet words glide on gusts of emotional melody. The EP balances DIY ambience with an undeniable pop nous, its heart worn firmly on its sleeve. The title track will linger in your mind for days, conjuring a nostalgia for something not quite tangible. The remaining cuts curl out like smoke, calling you back like a diary entry you don’t remember writing.

Robert Curgenven – Tailte Cré​-​Umha (Bronze Lands): Live At Cork Midsummer Festival

What happens when you hook Ireland’s largest pipe organ to a massive dub soundsystem? Big beautiful bastarding drones, that’s what. Australian-born, Ireland-based artist Robert Curgenven recorded this piece live at Cork Midsummer Festival in 2018, on the eve of the solstice. Combining his own live organ performance with recordings of other organs from around Cork and rural Cornwall (played through the 10ft high system), Curgeven creates a piece exploring Ireland’s links with Cornwall and Mediterranean Europe in the Bronze Age. It’s massive: a vast, deep expanse of pure tonal majesty that demands to be played as loud as possible. Unless you were there on the night, it’s tough to imagine quite how it would feel to have this immense sound course through you in a live context: something like Kali Malone, by way of Sunn O))) and Digital Mystikz, with sights set firmly on the depths of ancient history. Luckily for the rest of us, it sounds utterly immense on headphones too, so fill your boots.

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