The album, Raglans is available from:
The single, (Lady) Roll Back The Years is available via:
The Irish quartet have a long and busy touring schedule ahead of them. On the strength of their (self-titled) L.P., the Digging Holes impresarios will have a long and fruitful career. Coming to a town near you...
THE last few days have been some of the most revealing and surprising...
in terms of music discovery. A few days back I reviewed Gypsyfingers' debut album, Circus Life. Being familiar with the duo, I was expecting a lot of quality and highlights. However, after reaching the end of the L.P.'s 10th track, I was taken aback. Between the sighing and spectral vocal harmonies; gorgeous and aching strings and spiky and emphatic guitar contributions, I was amazed. Not only were the musical and vocal components so impressive, but the lyrics were outstanding too. Victroia Coghlan- as the duo's lead songwriter and vocalist- mixed slice-of-life realities with vivid and unusual storytelling- creating a myriad of wonderfully rich and detailed songs. Some tracks were scatterhsot and rapped; others tenderly whispered- our heroine is one of the best singer/songwriting talents on the scene. Luke Oldfield injects plenty of electricity and emotion, not only in his guitar-playing, but his emotive voice. With superb and assured production values, the album is a triumph, and something that will be launched to the public in a few days. A mere couple of days prior (to my review of Circus Life), I surmised a brand-new talent: The Glass Child. The alias of Swedish angel Charlotte Eriksson, our heroine cross-pollinate styles and genres; plays most of the instruments (on the album) herself; employing every song with nuanced and poetic words- creating a symphonic and spectacular album. Her, I'd Like To Remain A Mystery, is an album that everyone should investigate, as it documents the thoughts and feelings of a superb and hungry artist- one whom is a prolific writer and intriguing personality. Two (seemingly) disparate acts struck me in very different ways. Both are based near London, and each has their own banner, style and campaign tactics- yet they have many similarities. The way in which instruments are fused to elicit grand emotion wowed me; vocal beauty and force are paramount pillars (of both acts); considered and mult-layered songbooks are all present and correct. After a rather exhilarating and itinerant 2014, I am amazed at just how many twists and surprises music throws up. Every time a new band or act comes along, there is always something unique and tantalising that grabs me- although it is not always the case. In the wider scene, it is not always so easy to hear true quality and durability. Across my reviews, I have featured plenty of acts whom are instantly evocative- yet become less appealing and worthy as the days go by. There is a lot of disposability and short-lived dreams in the music scene; for willing to put the effort in, the rewards are bountiful. The reasons that The Glass Child and Gypsyfingers (as well as the likes of Issimo, Universal Thee and Jen Armstrong) strike me, is that their music is not only layered and complete- but there is bags of personality and ambition to be found. Professional and concise websites; tonnes of drive and direction all are evident- as well as a down-to-earth figures. As the year progresses, I am going to be seeking out as many great and diverse acts as possible- especially international ones. Before I introduce you to today's subjects, I will mention a name that will be familiar to many: Cuckoo Records. The Leeds-based outfit have been the basis of many of my previous reviews: the likes of Cissie Redgwick, Little Violet and Rose and the Howling North have featured on my pages. Each time I surmount and dissect one of Cuckoo's stars, I am always filled with a huge amount of admiration. The label is on the cutting edge of acts whom are ambitious, multi-talented, and above, all, different. The Electro-Swing lustre of Little Violet and Cisse Regwick were (and are) sounds unfamiliar to me. Invoking the glorious heyday of Swing, their modernisation of the '40s/'50s regency are engaging and thoroughly catchy. Redgwick's alter ego Rose and the Howling North is an outfit bursting with imagination and wonderful songs. The album Cuckoo, was one of the finest I have surveyed (last year), and its title track is a perfect distillation of the L.P.'s majesties. A few weeks back, I was fortunate enough to review Annie Drury, and her E.P., Some Day. The gorgeous Yorkshire starlet is a name that has featured on BBC Radio 2 (several times), and she is one of the most promising and potent female solo artists on the scene. Aside from the witiness and vibrancy of Drury's music, the Yorkshire label is housing a new generation of talent: those whom re-engage and reinvent older genres; are modern and on the cutting edge of modern life; whom dare to be a bit different. As well as Cuckoo's outpourings, I have been reviewing a lot of acts based in the north. In terms of creativity, it is showing itself to be a hotspot and melting pot of some of the biggest and brightest music has to offer. As in love I am with the north of England (as well as the U.K. itself), I am keen to eek out and highlight the best music international shores have to offer. Over the past few weeks, I reviewed U.S. Rock act Kongos. As well as ignoring my review (bunch of bastards!), I was fascinated by their music; where they call home (Arizona), and their background. Swedish chanteuse The Glass Child was another fascinating (recent) example, and acts as varied as David Ward (Canada) and Say Lou Lou (Sweden) have all fallen under my radar. Aside from the odd North American and European act, I do not get to get my musical passport out- I featured an Australian band a few weeks ago, mind. My featured act hail from Ireland, and signify a departure for me. Once or twice an act from Ireland have struck my ear, but I do not hear too much from that glorious nation. I know for a fact, that between E.I.R.E. and Northern Ireland, some of the most encouraging and hard-working acts are playing. I feel that in order to have a successful and thriving music scene, you not only have to have the quality and present and correct- but have some multi-national influence. I have spent many a wide-eyed day reviewing brilliant and rare foreign acts; marvelling at music that we (hear sometimes) are not privy to; unaware of to a large extent- that which is different from what I am used to. I shall not delve too much into the issue, but is raises an interesting point: how often does one hear of a great act that originates from outside of the England, even? The music world is so compacted and busy, there is often enough room; often terrific and worthy talent gets overlooked (that hail from lands further afield). Today, I am lucky enough to feature an act whom not only call Ireland their home- but are based in, and gigging from, the U.K.
Having reviewed Raglans back in June (and their track Digging Holes), I was aware of the what the four-piece could achieve. The Irish lads impressed me with their sound, and I found myself coming away from the experience with a smile on my face- knowing that some future-stars were in our midst. There was the rambunctious fun and sensation of The Libertines; a modern sound that was relevant and familar- yet with embers of some of the great acts of old. Above all, the lads had a kinship and tightness that augmented the music; made everything come alive and feel urgent. It is obvious that there is a lot of affection in the band, and the buisness of music means a great deal to our quartet. The lure of demand has brought them from their native shores, to ours; they are in the midst of a busy year, which will see them touring far and wide. Given the reception from the release of their self-titled L.P., it is no surprise; they will be getting gig requests from many more venues before this year is through. I shall go into more depth about their music and qualities in time, yet I feel that Raglans have a sound that is transferable to the likes of the U.S. and Canada. When I featured acts such as Issimo, Univeral Thee, The Glass Child and Jen Armstrong, the abiding sounds being presented had elements of U.S. music; flavours of something continental- meaning international markets are much more likely to latch onto it. In this same sense, Raglans have a Rock/Indie template that shows homegrown (and British) hallmarks, yet is imbued with elements of American and European music. I am sure (that in a year or so), orders will be coming in thick and fast from the U.S.; New York and L.A. will be knocking at the door; Australia will be lining up, as will Europe- take my word for it! At the moment, the dust is still not settled from their album release, and the boys are familiarizing themselves with new towns and faces; taking their music to as many different towns as possible. Our Raglans quartet consist:
Stephen Kelly - Lead Vocals/Guitar
Sean O'Brien - Lead Guitar/Mandolin
Rhos Horan - Bass
Conn O'Ruanaidh - Drums
The likes of XFM have featured their music, and major stations are catching on to the hypnotic charms of the Irish lads. The boys have been added to the line-up for The Great Escape festival (in Brighton); Camden Rocks have booked them up as well; plaudits and patronage has been arriving from all quarters. Let me give you a bit of background about Raglans; where they have come from, and what they have achieved: "Formed in a festival tent in 2010 Dublin based 4 piece band Raglans launched the same year. Raglans blaze a trail of muscular new wave guitars, gritty pop melodies and uplifting indie folk arrangements that hops, skips and jumps with a skill and confidence far beyond their short lifespan and brought them The King Kong Club crown late in 2011, the prize, a recording session with Morrissey’s co- writer/arranger/guitarist Boz Boorer in his Sierra Alta studio. Raglans kick started 2012 in an imperious fashion with the witty, charmingly shot Beatlesque video for "The Man From Glasgow" (filmed by "insanely talented" young Finn Kennan) clocking up thousands of YouTube hits. Debut EP "Long Live" was the first release on Whelans’ record label launched in Ireland and the UK May 2012. The bands songwriting skills and musical camaraderie shine all over an EP that announces this vibrant, talented band to the world. Raglans followed the release with a video for the lead track of the EP, "Digging Holes" which went viral, adding to the 100,000 views of Raglans through YouTube. Such was the impact of this video that at their live shows large swathes of the audience are seen replicating the moves. The band have been touring since the release appearing at all the major Irish festivals including Westport, Sea Sessions, Indiependence, The Volvo Ocean Race, No Place Like Dome, Knockanstockan, Festival of Fires to name a few. Raglans will then head off to the UK for their first headline tour before returning for more Irish dates". The online following of Raglans seems to be increasing daily. On Facebook, they have well over 5,000 fans; their Twitter support base stands at over 2,500 (followers)- their stock is very much on the rise. In an industry that is capricious and fickle, it is incredibly hard getting support; harder still to get recognition- near-impossible to make it 'big'. Our heroes are clearly doing something right; it seems that critical pens have effusively been singing the praises of their album. Below are a few examples of what is being said amongst the music media minds:
"... upbeat, feelgood guitar pop with a raucous sense of youth. This is reflected in the band's lyrics as well, with single 'Lady Roll Back The Years' dealing with a close encounter with an older woman, who the band refer to as harbouring 'dastardly intentions'. The album boasts a refreshing lack of pretension seen and heard in many new guitar bands swapping the bravado and posturing for a sense of fun and what it means to be young". Gigwise
"One listen to Raglans’ debut album and you’ll understand why their reputation for live performances precedes them. The Dublin four-piece write the sort of fun, anthemic indie-pop that fills venues and festival tents with a feelgood ambience, taking the Beatles blueprint for three-minute classics and twisting it to fit their own agenda".
The Irish Times
"With its mix of youthful exuberance, vigour and passion it should at the very least provide the soundtrack of this summer for more than a few Irish revellers. Expect to hear a lot more from these lads over the next twelve months, they are the real deal".
"One listen to their self-titled debut will tell you exactly why, too. Their brand of catchy, no frills, rock & roll has already proved a hit with live audiences on tour with the likes of The Strypes, themselves alumni of the 'next big thing' tag".
"This scrappy Dublin quartet are slowly but surely putting themselves on the radar. Raglans recently toured the UK supporting The Strypes, they’ve achieved some mainstream radio airplay and next month they’re embarking on a headline tour in the UK. Their debut album is set for release today and it’s jam-packed with feel-good tracks that will ensure you don’t forget them in a hurry".
"These guys are certainly one of the forerunners of the indie scene that deserve to be more widely recognised".
Music Review Unsigned
"First saw these guys live in London touring with the Strypes and loved them straight away! So happy the album was out so soon after hearing about them and have been listening a lot since I bought it! Perfectly made album that's so good to blast through start to finish, especially love listening on the road! Good vibes and can't wait for more Raflans!".
Will Roberts (on iTunes)
"The sounds currently flooding my ear canals are so goddamn cheerful. With their charging guitars and all-conquering ‘Da Da Da’ refrains, The Raglans certainly recall the golden era of indie rock, particularly bands like Dirty Pretty Things and The Pigeon Detectives."
"A dance for feet, imagination, and emotions, the self-titled debut album from Irish band Raglans is a magnetic introduction to a band which has already brewed up approaching feverish attention around home city Dublin and the wider landscape of Ireland. That spotlight is sure to be expanded as the infectious adventure of their album takes the hands of UK passions and leads them in its thrilling melodic waltz. The eleven song blaze of captivating sounds and insatiable energy provides all the reasons as to why the indie-folk quartet has swiftly made a major mark back home and will soon have wider fields spellbound you suspect".
The Ringmaster Review
At the moment, the boys are preparing to play Oxford (before having a little rest); trying to win some new hearts. May and June will see Raglans playing various different festivals, and getting some valuable experience at playing the larger stages (to larger crowds)- the perfect platforms to allow their songs to come to life. The tracks within their debut (L.P.) have a natural summery appeal; a sunny kick- that are natural festival tunes. Before I get down to the album itself, I will conclude with one particular point: the band market in general. I have gone into some detail about the geographical location of new music acts (and how international elements are vital), yet when you consider the band market in general, it is incredibly competitive. Solo artists each have a distinct personality, and are perhaps less likely to be playing festivals- certainly true if you are a newer act. It is the bands that tend to pull in the big crowds, and as such, it is (the band market) a hugely bustling scene. I sang the praises of Crystal Seagulls recently- a London-based band whom are getting festival nods, that they have long deserved. Many other brilliant bands have struggled to get onto the ladder, and have been restricted to smaller venues and local gigs. When you get demand coming in, especially from the likes of Camden Rocks, it is a clear thumbs-up and indicator that huge things await. I hope that, in time, the likes of Reading and Leeds call on the boys; that the Isle of Wight Festival and Glastonbury keep their diaries open. I am sure the boys do not need my gold standard and high praise, but I shall give it anyway: they will be mainstays before too long. It is true that they are young and fairly new (perhaps need a few years to really solidify their talent) but all the early signs are encouraging. It is rare that bands at their stage get so much credit and demand this early, so I hope that the lads pat themselves on the back. I am sure they will not be thinking too far ahead for the moment, but it will be interesting to see where their music takes them over the next six months or so. It is the Raglans L.P. that has been setting critical tongues a-wagging, and an album that I have been immersed in.
The album's lead-off track (Digging Holes) kicks off with a chorus of "Digging Holes!"; backed by rumbling boulders of percussion, and a youthful kick that tells of: "Now you know/Why the people don’t love you". As soon as that line has been boisterously delivered, a shimmering and electrifying coda of percussive thuds and metal, as well as a waterfall of electronic sounds is unleashed. Scenes of an unnamed central focus watching the walls; for reasons unknown, is presented; the band asking: "What do you see?/What do you see?". The lines and themes have a simplicity, that is designed to be remembered and sung. When the words are sung, they are done so with full-voiced conviction, and sound quite unique. There is never a sense of a band trying to emulate another: their tones and vocals are theirs alone. Our boys see "the future and the past", but are very much in the here and now. The verses and nature of the delivery are very much ready-made for festivals and large venues, to be choruses by enraptured fans; but there is indie and folk charm to suggest that they will gain appeal from bigger radio stations. It is unsure who the figure is at the centre of the song; the subject that is being offered little solace. Their body and mind are drifting apart; they are unloved and digging themselves deeper. Usually, or for most bands at least, romance and the uncertainty of love is normally focused upon; yet it seems that there is a more masculine idol that is being picked apart. Perhaps the most defining feature of the track is the shimmering electronics and waves. They are employed to create mood and atmosphere between the choruses and verses, and make you forget about any negativity or scorn on behalf of the band, and take you somewhere calmer, and more detached. For all of the memorable simplicity, the boys have a way of offering scenes with intrigue and strangeness dripping from the seams. In the way Bob Dylan penned a venomous poem to an unnamed woman in Like A Rolling Stone, asking "How does it feel?", Raglans do the same, instead insights such as "Like a leper on your throne" are proffered. Feelings and thoughts are key themes and topics that are dissected and examined in various ways. Backed by a tumbling and kicking musical smile- similar to Mumford and Sons only far less irritating- the question of "How do you feel" is asked; our singer feels alone, but "Alive/For the first time in my life". No matter what vengeance or turmoil are present, there is a sense of there being a turning point afoot; no matter what bitterness is reserved for the anonymous subject, the lads themselves seem bereft of any burdens. Energy and conviction never let up, and it is this commitment to creating a sustained atmosphere and regulating any negative edges, that gives Digging Holes such an edge. Its chorus, with ‘uh-ohs’ punched and shouted, backed by folk augmentations. It is these folk touches, that give way to indie lines. A rapid-fire and glimmering passage twists and duplicates, whipping up another layer and shade of curiosity, before it is said: "This can be the start of something new". The chorus is ridden again- and our tale comes to an end. Determined to keep the intrigue high and the energy decibel at a peak, White Lightning rushes onto the scene. After a brief sonic burst, the vocal arrives in; our hero in impassioned mood. Exclaiming that "All I do is wait/For you", the pace and sound of has its roots in the early-Beatles period. With a nod to the With the Beatles/A Hard Days Night regency, a breezy and effortless '60s feel washes over you. If the melody puts you in mind of the Liverpool legends, the words certainly won't. With a powerful (yet aching) vocal, it is said that "We weren't suppose to fall"; the song recount the tale of our (anti-) heroine; one whom is struck down by white lightning, lost it seems. Our hero admits "the lay of your land defeats me"; his mind wanders back to times where the two were in smoky rooms; listening to music that overthrew the heroine- there is a genuine sense of remembrance and passion. The sing along and happy-go-lucky charm of the chorus gets your feet moving, and implores you to duet with the band; the weaving and snaking guitar riff elicits a smile (and put me in mind of Definitely Maybe-era Oasis). I can well imagine this track being a fond festival favourite, as with the huge and raucous chorus- combined with a summery feel- hits its marks impressively. With a lot of personality, some nods to '60s and '90s greats, and a bucket of charm and conviction, it is a song which will burrow itself into your brain. Even after a couple of tracks, Raglans have established themselves as a band adept at employing catchy choruses; ensuring that their music has a mix of catchiness, as well as force. As you come to the end of White Lightning, you are curious and eager to see what is coming next. Natives begins in typically euphoric form; kicking up a storm of vocal chorusing and wordless chanting, there is no time to let your mind rest. With nods to Digging Holes' sound and flair, the song gets off to the races quickly. Our hero is in considered mood: "Romance/Pathos/Lend me your ears..." he begins, his voice tender and restrained. Whereas the opening salvos have displayed a bolstered and striking energy, here things are taken down a notch- at first. Lamenting on things past, and "wanting what you never had", subtle (yet potent) percussive backing adds weight to the words; guitars shimmer and twinkle- creating shafts and bursts of light. Not intend on letting things regress to a dour and morbid state, our boys soon take matters into their own hands. Again, there is an emphasis on memorable lyrics; using simplicity in order to lodge their words into your conciousness. Rallying words, "We are what we are" are met with pulsating and jittering percussive slams; the guitars and bass burst and join the fight. The song deals with a lot of hard truths; facts of life that (perhaps regretfully) our hero has to accept ("Work hard...no choice"), proceedings not only investigate wider issues and themes; but its messages can be extrapolated by anyone listening. Natives retains the band's hallmarks of wordless and catchy vocal lines; huge and memorable choruses- yet introduces something new. Brass notes and subtler and romanticized guitar moments are added to the palate, and to my mind, the song is richer and more layered than previous numbers. The vocal performance- from our hero as well as the band as a whole- hits hardest when the mood is calmer; when things are more introverted and reflective. It is said that "Decisions define"; there is a sense of breathlessness with the delivery and energy of the final minute-or-so- the boys are in philosophical mood. By the time the song reaches its climatic moments, you get the sense that another festival-ready track has been unveiled. Although dealing with (occasionally) harder themes, there is an unabated sense of energy and momentum throughout, and is a song that will connect with a lot of music-lovers. Before Tonight contains the most memorable intro. of the set (to that point). A delicate and tip-toeing (electric) guitar coda gives way to a rumbling and stirring percussive rally. Mixing Punk energy with classic Pop beauty, the introductory moments show that the guys are concerned with emotional fortitude and nuance- as well as direct anthemics. Whether speaking to a specific subject or the world at large, our hero asks: "Let's get along/In this hole where we were born". As lines reveal themselves, you get the impression that a sweetheart is being spoken to. Sure that this is what our hero wanted, now he is not so sure; doubt and uncertainty creep into his thoughts. Yearning and romantic of voice, it is hoped that (the song's subject was here) "to clean tyhe rust from all my years". As is expected from the Irish quartet, they manage to blend sensitive with energised rushes. If you think you are settling in for a romantic ballad, then think again. Before long, vocals are multiplied and proceedings turn towards anthemic avenues. With a (repeated) message of "Before tonight/We were waiting", guitar, bass and drums combine and spar to elicit a hugely evocative sound. To my ear, Kelly has a slight touch of Alex Turner in his voice (it is slight), yet you can hear some embers of Arctic Monkeys in the songs as a whole. Whereas the Sheffield outfit tend to come across as a little spiky and moody, here there is an abiding positivity to be found. Kudos to the guitar work throughout which is not only consistently strong, but changes course and direct seemlessly- giving the track additional gravity and potency. "Don't let it rain on me" are some of the final words sung, and are done so with a c'est la vie attitude- never a band to let life get them down. With a deliciously cheeky outro., Before Tonight ends its life. It is a song that boasts the strongest band performance to date, and one of the most fully-rounded and intriguing vocal performances. The Man From Glasgow comes equip with a machine-gun first few seconds. The intro. put me in mind of Kilamangiro; there is the same jittery and pummeling pace of that of Babyshambles' hit. Our hero sends his thoughts to a central figure; whether it is a man known to the band or someone fictional, I am not too sure. Opening words paint the picture of someone whom is perhaps not too fondly regarded: "If I had legs like you/I'd love to run". Perhaps that is my interpretation, but the way the words tumble and are roll, give the song a huge sense of excitement. Sitting down with the song's subject, it is said "I got a kid, I got a wife/I got rich, I got poor". I guess there is not that much spite at its heart, as our hero says (when speaking to the song's "boy"): "The things you want/Are the things you'll find". With the Raglans voices bellowing and chorusing, some truths and facts are laid down. Our hero lets the boy know that dreams may sink; events may not work out as hoped- yet in time he'll become the man he wants to be. The Man From Glasgow boasts one of the most naturally carefree vocals of the L.P. Kelly seems less anxious and wracked; whether he is speaking to a familiar face or not, there is the idea of everything-will-be-okay- like a father sitting his son down and reassured his mind. Once more, certain words and phrases are repeated and emphasized; here is another track that has a large audience in mind. Whilst not as emphatic and anthemic as earlier tracks, the song earns its stripes with its composition and lyrics. The band have broken away from themes of love and personal doubt, and towards something new. The words are intelligent and simple at the same time, whilst the composition is varied and striking. A lot of bands would choose one pace or sound and provide few diversions and shifts; Raglans ensure that they do not let themselves do this. As a consequence, the song is one of the strongest so far, and a track that will be getting a lot of airplay in the future. Beginning with a cooing and melodic round of vocal "ooh"-ing, Fake Blood arrives. By this stage in the L.P., you get the sense the boys have figured out what their sound is going to be, and what components they want to present (in each song). Lightness and sweet melody is there; a breezy and summer-time feel as well- and, of course, the vocal sing-along. If each song sounded the same it would become grating and dull, yet this is not the case. Nature and meteorological components are used as metaphors for deeper emotions. Our hero seems "buried in the snow"; for all that happens and is known, "Rivers run deep/Rivers run cold". Looking at childhood streets and harsh, nightmarish memories, our hero confesses: "I can still see visions in the night". Perhaps for a track that deals with slightly darker issues, it seems unusual that the band unveil another upbeat vocal backing- but it seems to work. I guess proceedings need to be kept level, but it is a song that is crying out for something heavier and deeper. Whether the lads wanted to keep hold of their jocular and all-is-well aesthete, I am not sure, but it is not a facet that is too distracting or harsh. Words here are less direct and more oblique; "Rome was built before its time" and "When rivers run out/When rivers run dry" seem to have various meanings and interpretations. Perhaps not an album stand-out or favourite, but another strong track that suggest that Raglans find it impossible to be downbeat- energy and force are elemental to the guys. The opening moments of Not Now put me back in upbeat mode. After a slight dip, the rush and alacrity of the intro. spikes your attentions and elicits a smile. Our hero's voice is full and alive in the embryonic moments; "Wake up, wake up/Take it while you're young" is a rousing call-to-arms. There is a sense of mortality and capturing life in its purest form; when it is said that "nothing lasts forever", you can hear the conviction come through. The percussion crackles and slams, both keeping time and driving the song forward. The boys are in vocal unison, yet it is more appropriate here- given the song's themes and ideas. When our hero says "I hear you calling/I hear you falling", the vocal backing is brilliant deployed. Perhaps with a bit of Liam Gallagher-esque sneer and swagger to the vocal, our frontman asks: "Teach me the value of tradition". The track has a sound that seems ready-made for XFM and BBC Radio Two alike- there is that sense of modern youth as well as matured and wise. The composition is effective and evocative, yet not too intrusive. When all the sonic and vocal elements are combined, you get the sense that another fan favourite could have been discovered. I am not sure how the band interpret their songs in the live arena, yet it will be interesting to hear. Anyway, as the song comes to its conclusion, we are heading into the final third- and waiting to see what our quartet have to offer. On iTunes- and social media- there seems to be a frontrunner and standout track: (Lady) Roll Back The Years. With 17,000 YouTube views and a heap of praise, it is a song that seems to resonate with most. With a chugging and distorted snippet of feedback, the track blends into light-hearted acoustic guitar strums- before mutating into electric guitar. The percussion tumbles and barrels, as the vocal "uh-oo"s mandate. There is a sense of The Fratellis in the early stages; a similar energy and rousing kick. Early words speak of the "cold winter nights"; our hero looks into the innervisions of the song's subject; foolhardy to think that he thought she could "make a young man of me". There is a feeling of heavy shoulders and weight-of-the-world-burden; a sense of fatigue has crept in. Feeling further away from London, and "even further/From Dublin", you get the feeling that there is a sense of detachment and loss; home is far behind and- whether this is seen as a good thing or not- our man is itinerant and wandering. Not knowing where he'll be, he still hopes that his girl comes a-calling- "These days are all that we've got". Perhaps yearning for past days and former years, our hero wants (his beau) to roll back the years- "Nothing stains your eyes like regret". It seems that the last chances (to feel youthful and free) arrive with "Cheap tricks and romance"; gone, perhaps, are the best days of youth. High Road gets down to business pretty snappishly; leading off from where (Lady)' left off, a weaving and swaying intro. is unleashed. Early sentiments see our hero taking the high road "after all the low blows"; apparently speaking to a (former) sweetheart, the frontman is under attack- when his subject over-reacts. Entrenched between a rock and a hard place, the downsides and anxieties of love are laid bare; heart-stopping moments are produced after "the penny dropped"- all, perhaps, is not well in the soul. Whereas the previous track implored his girl to revitalise an ageing spirit and re-envoke some lost youth, High Road yearns for safety and compromise. Maybe the early flourishes and rose-tinted glasses of love have been left long behind. When it is said that "We've been dreaming/Wish we could have known", it seems there may be no way back. Raglans manage to keep the mood buoyant and not succumb to woe-is-me pouting. Perhaps fitting of the (song's) title, the energy levels are kept high; ensuring that the sing along potentiality is kept in tact. The penultimate track, Down, arrives in a flurry of balls-to-the-wall vocals. "Falling down/All the way down" are thoughts delivered in full and euphoric voice; the boys singing from the parapet, or inside of a bottle of whiskey. With no musical accompaniment, the voices do the early work; weaving and imploring- retreating and blending. To counterbalance the rambunctiousness of early stages, a lilting and melodic mandolin parody arrives. With touches of Losing My Religion R.E.M., the song changes course, and stabilises. The vocal utterances of our hero are breathy and tender in the early stages- a departure from previous numbers. Telling us, that there is no life in these "shotgun towns", there is a somnambulistic and dreary scene; where no one moves or "makes a sound". Beneath the shadow of a setting down, our hero crawls all the way down, to the bottom "where it can't be found". Previous songs have touched on lost youth, fragmented love; wise words and bloodshed streets- here there is some personal dissatisfaction, and a need to move on. With "A thousand lines/divide in my mind", our hero has messed up somewhat (it seems); and is falling down to earth. His cohorts keep the mood- once more- in check with their choruses of emphatic vocals. Perhaps with their minds and bones in a bar (drowning their sorrows) the song has a scrappy charm; you are always rooting from the frontman, and hoping that he'll land on his feet. Musically, it is a departure from other songs. The employment and dominance of mandolin is impressive and gives the track a richer sound. In terms of the overall sound and theme it is not a huge departure, yet a song which keeps the core sound in tact- whilst adding new shades and colours. As the final track remains, you begin to reflect on the album, and absorb the myriad themes and sights that have been presented. That swan song arrives in the form of Born in Storms. Faint and relaxed mandolin strings are superseded by a bolstering and augmented voice; our hero retreating to his own biography. Speaking of his birth and early life, the young man has "chased down every hole". Wonder "how did it come to this?", our lead is almost looking back on life; standing in a spot and wondering where the time went. With his brothers in supportive voice, our hero realises: "Before I knew it I was a man"; the song looks at past events and circumstance. Privilege was offered, but our hero built himself a wall he knew he could climb; carved out his own way through. The composition- aside from some punchy percussion- is not too heavy or hard, instead relying on the swing and sway of the vocals and guitar. The mandolin touches are light but effective; guitar and bass effectively deployed, scoring lines that talk of "All of this land between us"- seeming like a million miles away- leads our hero to state: "We were born in storms". The very last seconds fade down and the song comes to its conclusion, thus does the album itself. With the silence upon me, it was time to reflect on Raglans; how it has effected me- and how the music left its marks.
Some critics have been a bit ambivalent and luke-warm; proclaiming the band are a bit too new and fresh to really make an impression. There definitely is room for the band to grow and expand, but on the evidence of their debut, I was hugely impressed. Perhaps it is because the lads play the kind of music I love, but I could find no fault with their L.P.- quite the opposite in fact. Each song offered something original, fascinating and memorable- lines and compositions are still swirling around my brain. It shows that festival bookings have been no fluke; there is no 'luck of the Irish', either- the boys have been deserving of all the success they have accrued. One or two of the tracks do not hit their high standards, but even the 'weaker' numbers are still brilliant. Our Irish heroes have a knack for whipping up evocative imagery and drawing you into their music; encapsulating your attention and thoughts over the course of a few minutes- there is a great deal to recommend. As much as anything, the overall sound is hugely impressive. When reviewing the album, Louder Than War stated the following: "Nothing that Raglans do is revolutionary, but they do do it with a confidence and a contagiousness that is rarely seen. It’s not a classic either, but it is very very good and if this is the way they are starting their career then they have some big times in front of them". Classic relies on longevity and experience, and new bands- unless you are amongst the legends- produce something world-class right off the bat. Being 'revolutionary' is a hard thing to obtain in music, and these are- as the publication admits- minor points: the 'big future' is the big news. The Irish Times wrote: "... although the catchy vocal hooks may be built for audience participation, their overuse on record ultimately translates to a slightly homogenous album"; but went on to say that "The Dublin four-piece write the sort of fun, anthemic indie-pop that fills venues and festival tents with a feelgood ambience, taking the Beatles blueprint for three-minute classics and twisting it to fit their own agenda". I feel that the album has a sense of individuality; of a band cementing their own personal sound and motifs. Whilst some may see it as homogenized, the truth is, that it is hard to compare Raglans with any other bands. Classic elements and some familiar tones can be detected, yet the boys are no fools: they have crafted a work that is very much their own. The hooks and sing-along festivities are rife, and it will be great to see the crowds of Camden and Brighton bouncing along to them- singing the band's songs with reckless abandon. From all the reviews I have read, there seems to be the consensus that the guys are going to be big news. One or two have been imperious when it comes to some of the content; the production sound and originality, but that is their opinion- and surely will spur the lads on to up their game come album number two. The production is clear and crisp, yet not too polished or over-done. The album wins its stripes because of its utilitarianism and universality. It is not a collection that will alienate certain people; appeal to a delineated or clandestine core- it is music for the masses. Endorsements have come in from the likes of Ricky Gervais and Dermot O'Leary, and it is no shock. The music on offer has such a range, that there are Radio Two-ready anthems; Radio One-esque Rock gems- as well as scrappy outsiders that the likes of XFM and Absolute Radio adore. I know that Cuckoo stable mates such as Annie Drury have enjoyed some prestigious play from Radio Two, and I am sure that Raglans will experience this very soon. Their album is not going to purely be aimed at the 18-3o demographic; those whom prefer their music fast and urgent- there are softer moments and plenty to appeal to all age ranges. I have not met the boys (I hope to rectify this), but you can hear the personalities shine through. In the same way as Oasis and The Libertines poured their blood and thoughts over each of their albums, so too do Raglans. Our heroes should be very proud of their debut (album), and is a fine testament to a hungry band, intent on world-domination. The band arena is one that plays host to a great deal of players. Some of the legs to make their way to the top; a few are capable of legendary status- yet most only shine for a brief moment. We are in the embryonic stages, but Raglans possess enough chutzpah, direct and ballistic intent to signal a group very much intent on sticking around- for the long-term. Leeds-based Cuckoo Records have another treasure in their locker, and I know that they have high hopes for the boys- and are immensely proud of their progress. When they play Brighton in a couple of months-or-so, I hope to be there and see what all the fuss is about. Judging from reviews I have seen, they are a formidable live force, and their engaging stage presence has been highlighted. It is clear that 2014 is going to consist or many (wonderful) gigs and scene changes; new faces and crowds will get to hear Raglans' music up close and personal. What happens after that is anyone's guess, but I am sure that new music and new horizons are a distinct possibility- after a well-earned bit of time off! For now, digest their self-titled album and its myriad charms as their music is tailor-made for warmer and happier skies. Get out there and see the boys play live, and see what you reckon. As sure as anything...
I shall see them very soon.
Digging Holes- 9.4/10.
White Lightning- 9.3
Before Tonight- 9.5
The Man From Glasgow- 9.4
Fake Blood 8.8
Not Now- 9.2
(Lady) Roll Back The Years- 9.6
High Road- 9.4
Born in Storms- 9.3
Standout Track: (Lady) Roll Back The Years