The album, Dogrel, is available here:
THIS year has been an action-packed one…
for music and, in the midst of all this excitement, there have been some truly staggering album. I have written (many times) how women are leading the way and, to me, they are right at the top of the tree. That is not to say the guys are lacking clout and quality: in fact, Fontaines D.C. have produced a real masterpiece with their latest album, Dogrel. I will look at the latest single from that album soon but, before I get there, I wanted to talk about bands and the state of affairs there; this year’s collection of sounds; Irish music and creating more balance in the industry; deeper themes being tackled in music and genres like Post-Punk – I shall end by seeing where Fontaines D.C. are heading and what their future holds. One might look at that plan and feel that I have covered a few of these themes before. That is true but, to be fair, I have not examined Fontaines D.C. and this year has evolved and shifted so quickly that, inevitably, themes do reoccur and I can add new light to an older topic. Whilst the band market is no way as strong and popular as it was years ago, there is this feeling that it is making a comeback. Perhaps there is not the dominance in the mainstream as there once was. I am tracking my mind back and trying to figure the last time bands were ahead of solo artists in terms of popularity. Maybe we have to visit the 1990s to discover all those rich and iconic bands who were uniting us all and providing this sensational music. Certainty now, there is this proliferation of solo artists and, whilst it is not a bad thing, one feels that bands warrant a bit more focus. With exciting acts such as Squid and IDLES providing something kicking, raw and fresh, there are bands out there to get excited about. Perhaps, when we think about bands now, certain genres come to mind: gone are the days when the great Rock and sophisticated Pop bands had a real place in the industry.
PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Topete
That said, this week has seen new releases from Two Door Cinema Club and Hot Chip. There are sensational groups playing but, in terms of the wider landscape, the solo artist rules. That dominance was more pronounced a couple of years back and, fortunately, there has been a revival recently. Although Fontaines D.C. have been kicking around a little while now, they have made a real stand with Dogrel. I, for one, do miss the days when bands used to headline festivals and the mainstream. I know The Cure and The Killers are headlining Glastonbury but I mean newer bands. In a couple of years, one might imagine IDLES and Fontaines D.C. topping bills. Both bands have played on the same bill as one another and they both have this electricity that is hard to resist. I love what solo artists are putting down but, in order for a good mixture to form, we do need bands to exist. I feel Fontaines D.C. are one of the strongest around and provide that great blend of directness and energy combined with a grace and accessibility that means you do not need to be a Post-Punk fan to get what they are about – more on that a bit later. I shall move on in a second but, first, think about Fontaines D.C. and how they make you feel. There is something about the vocal accent; the way the play and how their songs make you feel that gets into the blood and stays in the head. They are one of the most exciting groups of the past few years and, with Dogrel getting smash reviews, the boys should prepare themselves for a very busy and prosperous future. What with so much music bubbling around, it is always going to be the case that there is an imbalance between bands and solo artists but, at a time when solo artists are really striking out, I do like the fact there are bands challenging; some big players that prove the industry is not reliant on solo artists foe gold.
I have talked about bands and why Fontaines D.C. excite me but, looking further, and you can see all the sounds and genres popping. I do not think I have lived through a year where so many ideas have been spliced together. Even as a Post-Punk band, there are so many lyrics themes, nuanced and compositional touches injected into Fontaines D.C.’s locker. The mainstream Pop scene might not have progressed as much as one would have hoped but, away from that, one can find so much eclectic brilliance and sonic invention. I have been struck by the female artists of 2019 and the music being made. From the great Folk of Billie Marten to the Neo-Soul of Jamila Woods; the great Hip-Hop of Little Simz and the exciting Pop of Self Esteem – 2019’s very best is a lot stronger and more compelling than previous years. I am not sure what has accounted for this real rise in quality but I think, with women biting harder and showing how strong they are, the scene is much more assured and bold. That is not taking anything away from men but, alongside these multifarious female artists, great bands like Fontaines D.C. are making their mark. With the political scene being in a state, I do feel solo artists and bands are addressing that through their music. I will discuss Fontaines D.C. and their political bent but, when one investigates the spread of music this year, it is mind-blowing. It has been a huge year for music and I cannot get my head around everything. Not only are artists documenting what is happening in the wider world and the nature of politics right now but, when it comes to splicing sounds together, artists are making a huge leap in 2019. Maybe this subject is appropriate of nothing but I think Fontaines D.C. are defining 2019 and what artists are made of. The reason I wanted to bring up this point is because, in previous years, the scene has been a bit limited and narrow.
It is only June now and, when you consider what has come already, it is remarkable. I am bracing myself for the storm and it will be amazing. All of this diverse music will act as inspiration to artists emerging. Maybe that is why bands sort of took a back seat: the fact there were a few that sounded the same and it did not give music the depth and variety it was shouting out for. Now, bands are broadening a bit but I do still think that the most challenging and genre-hopping music is being made by solo artists. The real strength of Fontaines D.C. is their words and how they mix the political, social and personal. I am a big fan of escapism and something not overly-serious but, in a year that has been blighted with upheaval and division, we do need artists to document that. I will talk about Fontaines D.C. and some of the issues they address in their music, but it is thrilling hearing them perform and the power they provide. It is clear that 2019 (so far) has been epic and I expect that to carry on unabated. I think another thing that marks 2019 out for special consideration is that sense of boldness artists are showing. So many are stepping away from convention and giving their music all sorts of possibilities and angles. It is remarkable watching it unfold and, in terms of what Fontaines D.C. are doing, they are a band that have taken the rulebook and ripped it up. They can give us these big choruses that get the people singing but they use their platform to speak about something important; making you think and getting into the head. They mix fun and the serious and they are an exceptional live act. I shall move on but I wanted to discuss 2019 and why, to me, it is a year that is going to be hard to beat.
PHOTO CREDIT: Andrea Gonar
Most of the music I have covered this year has been from British or American acts. I think, as is common, most people tend to focus on these two areas. Although Fontaines D.C. are performing all around and travelling far, there are based in Dublin and I think the city is teeming with terrific music. I feel there is a part of us that still assumes the only great music is in the U.K. or U.S. In fact, if you listen to what is happening in Australia, you are spoiled for choice regarding terrific music. Sweden is always ripe and brilliant and I love what one can find in Canada. The world is not limited to the U.K. and U.S. but I think the media doesn’t spend enough time with other areas of the world. Dublin is a wonderful city that has not been shy regarding legendary acts. Girl Band and Fontaines D.C. are the two best contemporary bands from Dublin but, if you look back, there is a wealth of talent to be found. I do think Dublin’s music has a distinct tone and flair. Maybe there is a rawness and physicality in the air but I always associate the city with genres like Punk and Rock. Can one link that to a music history in Dublin or a personal preference? Whatever the reason, Dublin should not be overlooked regarding the new wave of artists to watch. The nation has splendid people and there are some truly great venues to be found. This great feature from 2017 highlighted some great Dublin acts to watch and many of them are storming it right now. I am not sure whether there is a more updated article but, looking at the feature above, and you can see the variety of music coming from the city. The feature sort of disproves my theory that Dublin is heavy with heavier sounds: there is some wonderful Pop and Folk to be found. I shall keep the theme going in the conclusion but, right now, I wanted to look at Fontaines D.C. and an interview that struck my mind.
When speaking with The Guardian, Fontaines D.C. discussed why there is something liberating in Irish music; why gentrification is robbing cities like Dublin of their identity and how Brexit is creating splits between Ireland and the U.K.
“There’s a natural rebelliousness to Irish trad music,” says Deegan, the band’s bassist. “That combined with punk feels really natural. I think singing in an Irish accent on top of punk, it just doubles down on that sense.”
Chatten’s rugged vocals are key in defining the Fontaines DC sound. In person, he spins the streetwise wisdom of a beatnik balladeer, his conversation delivered in a gripping drawl through a sleepy exterior. This classic frontman allure has helped make Dogrel the most hyped Irish rock debut in years – a quick ascent for a group of twentysomethings whose initial desire was to form a kind of “punk Beatles”.
This very Irish album arrives at a time when Anglo-Irish relations are as strained as they have been in years, with Brexit negotiations pitting the nations in opposite corners. “The only thing that concerns me about that is the state of Northern Ireland,” says Deegan. “I don’t really care what Britain does. That’s kind of the whole point of forming a republic in the first place.”
The album ends with Dublin City Sky, a lament to the end of a toxic relationship and the fracturing of the city’s bohemian character under the weight of capitalism and gentrification. “It feels very important to explore the dying culture that’s being murdered by gentrification,” Chatten says. “It’s casting a shadow on what we love about the city and that gives us the impetus to write about what’s in that shadow”.
That is just a few quotes from the interview – I urge you to read the whole piece – and it shows that, like I said, the band is eager to tell it like it is. In terms of an Irish sound, there is definitely a liberation and rebelliousness that is lacking elsewhere.
From the wilder and more charging acts like Fontaines D.C. to the arresting sounds of Wyvern Lingo, there is plenty happening in Dublin. I love what the city is giving the world and the sheer character running rampant in the music. It is clear E.I.R.E. (and Northern Ireland) warrants greater affection and coverage. The other parts of that interview – concerning gentrification and political struggles – stood out. If you have never been to Dublin, you might not know how the landscape is changing and what is happening there. It is clear capitalism and gentrification is changing cities like London but one might have this romantic image of Dublin in their minds. It is clear there is history and tradition still standing but, more and more, money is changing things and tearing down tradition. It is sad to see and, for artists, that must cause pain and upset. Raising this point in music gives us all an insight into cities like Dublin and what is going on. Also, regarding gentrification in general, does a more generic skyline lead to a diminished quality in music? It is the personality and history of a city that stirs something in the blood. If that is eroded then, in my view, you lose that spark and influence. Gentrification is not often discussed in music and I am glad Fontaines D.C. have covered it. Their tackling of Anglo-Irish relationships right now hits the hardest. The ongoing border issues with Ireland mean that there is a definite strain right now and we are unsure whether both E.I.R.E. and Northern Ireland will be trading with the rest of the U.K. post-Brexit. It is a sorry situation and I hope there is some resolution soon enough. Dogrel is an album that holds a lot of truth and opens eyes. You do not need to know about Ireland and the politics of the country to be able to identify with the songs. The guys are laying things out on the table and are giving us some of the most striking and memorable songs of the past few years. Let us move on as it is time to review the latest single from Fontaines D.C., Sha Sha Sha.
PHOTO CREDIT: Molly Keane
There is a percussive pummel and build-up that, oddly reminds me of Guillemots’ Trains to Brazil – a little heavier but still in that same vein. Anyway, the song does have that strict and exciting heartbeat that suggests something quite intense is brewing. With a gorgeous kick and some strutting riffs, we transform from this somewhat close and brooding beat to a song that opens out and seemingly dances. It is almost like someone dancing in the rain; merriment mixed with this real sort of grit and defiance. When the lyrics come through, there are pictures and instant images projected. Our hero talks about (his subject) being “so real” – he is a “show reel”. I love that wordplay and contrast that suggests the heroine is someone – I assume, in the early phases we are talking about a relationship – who is grounded and a bit too real whereas our man is a bit of a dreamer. She, it is told, works hard but steals; she is someone who runs wild whereas the hero feels a bit like an “old tattoo”. I get the feeling of racing hearts and hidden desires. In terms of placing the song, it has a sort of homely feel whereas the band is documenting scenes around them and the realities of their daily lives. Like any Fontaines D.C., it is not long until there is some humour thrown into the blender. The first verse, to me, is about a sense of lust between these two very different people. The girl seems a bit like a freewheelin’ sort who takes risk and is bringing the best from the hero – and some of the worst elements, too. When the song progresses, we are introduced to a cabbie who pees over his steering wheel; heads are hitting the pavement and there is this feeling of chaos and drunkenness. Sha Sha Sha is under three minutes and has that sense of economy and tightness. There is little time for soloing and excursion as the guys have something important to get out.
I do like how Fontaines D.C. can pack a lot into a pretty short song. I am not sure whether there is a linguistic important to the ‘sha’ of the song or whether it is the name of the girl – maybe a shortened version of Charlotte. Whatever the origin of the title, the word is repeated just before the verse about cabbies losing control of their penises and unrest in the streets. There are men pumping up tyres, dimly lit and there is always this sense of un-rule and spool. Maybe it is a look at the Dublin nightlife or it might be another location. We can all relate to that rather vivid and illuminating aspect of the city and what it hides when the lights go down. Despite the fact there are good things happening, there is always going to be that contrasting sense of dirt and reality. Juxtaposed against these romantic ideals and passionate thoughts, one can almost smell the oil and pee that threatens to take the beauty out of everything. Fontaines D.C. are brilliant when it comes to descriptions and painting these very real scenes. They do not disguise their words or use clichés: everything they put onto the page comes from their own experiences and, to ensure the songs hit hard, they do not feel the need to disguise and hold back. The fact that there is a clear Irish accent at the forefront – rather than something Americanised – gives Sha Sha Sha its authenticity, beauty and grit. It is one of the more underrated songs from Dogrel and one you will keep coming back to time and time again. That triumphant and dogged beats gives the song an endless thrill and toughness that guides the vocal and gives it extra clout. The band is terrific and always in-step. Every song Fontaines D.C. touches turns to gold and their songs have such variety. I use that word (variety) a lot and, with the Irish band, that comes in spades. They keep their identity strong but they can take these Post-Punk songs and add so many different shades and colours. Sha Sha Sha is a fantastic song from one of 2019’s very best year – the mighty and all-conquering Dogrel.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin W Condon
Fontaines D.C. have come a long way in their careers. Recently, they supported IDLES on the road but, with Dogrel scoring high, the boys are causing a storm all on their own. I guess that exposure with IDLES helped regarding international gigs and, right now, the lads are planning U.S. dates. In fact, they head to Seattle in September and there is all sorts of things happening up until that point. They are a fantastic live acts and, like their IDLES buddies, Fontaines D.C. have this vibrancy and passion that scores songs with a real sense of purpose and importance. I do think, considering Fontaines D.C., we need to look closer at Irish acts and actually investigate bands in more depth. There is still that reliance on solo acts and, whilst this is good, many terrific bands are not getting the focus they deserve. I do feel like there is this rising and wave right now that is worth getting excited about. Maybe we will not quite see the same sort of wonder we did back in the 1990s but there is nothing to say that, in a few years, solo artists will be the go-to when it comes to brilliant music. I have mentioned a few bands in this review but there are many more emerging. It is a great time for new music and I cannot wait to see what the rest of 2019 holds! We have seen some remarkable albums thus far and I do think Dogrel is right near the top of the stack. I shall end things in a minute but I just wanted to stand back and take it all in. I do think Fontaines D.C. are one of the finest bands right now and a mighty force in music. They are a sensational live act so go and see them perform if they are near you. Go get Dogrel and discover an album that is just what modern-day Britain needs.
The Dublin-based band is showing how politicians in our country are impacting them and, in a wider sense, there are huge problems bubbling. I do not think we should ignore what is happening and bury it. Music is this terrific forum where artists can speak the truth and ask for change. From gentrification to border issues, Fontaines D.C. are definitely speaking more truth than many of the politicians out there. That seems to be the thing with music right now: so much uncluttered and direct messages; nothing like you’d hear our Government spewing! I shall wrap things up in a bit but I wanted to talk about this incredible band and the awesome music they are producing. 2019 has been synonymous with variation and bravery from all corners. This sheer variety is a really good thing and will impact the next year of music and, in fact, the next generation of artists. Although my favourite albums of the year (so far) have been made by women, I do love Fontaines D.C. and what they are doing. They are a wonderful act that we need and, in terms of the music, they are setting the scene alight. Their gigs are legendary and I do think we will see them headline festivals soon enough. I do not say that lightly and I am sure many music journalists will agree with me. Dogrel is a masterful work and the newest cut, Sha Sha Sha, is a mighty thing. Let us take things down there. I want to end by quoting (again) from that Guardian interview; some interesting points that were raised:
“If there’s any justice, Fontaines DC’s debut album Dogrel will enter the canon of classic dramatic depictions of Dublin. The city is unalterably embedded in the record’s DNA – it is as quintessentially Dublin as the work of James Joyce was a century ago. “I think a lot of our music sounds, to me, like buses and trains and just hordes of people on particular streets in Dublin,” says frontman Grian Chatten, who is sitting opposite me in the Clarence hotel, flanked by his bandmates Conor Deegan III, Conor Curley, Carlos O’Connell and Tom Coll.
The band’s punk licks and brogue-heavy narration present an unvarnished but undeniably romantic version of the city: this is music that sounds like Dublin feels. Chatten’s heavily accented vocals play a part; there are references to specific areas, pubs and landmarks, plus a cast of characters who populate the songs. But there is something more than just portraits. The rough production and rickety rhythms conjure familiar Dublin moods: bustling markets, rain-streaked cobblestones and the rumbling of cold early-morning commerce. “I think of Dublin and our music as one and the same, because it was written by people who were intensely absorbed by the city,” says Chatten. “We were just really consumed by it; it influenced us in just the way street corners looked and how people spoke, and absolutely every aspect of it filtered through”.
Dogrel, to be truthful, is a masterpiece and one that is so rich with meaning, visions and life. I would be shocked if it was not named in the best albums of this year in December. Make sure you embrace these guys and follow their career very closely. They might have started life on modest foundations but, with exposure and tremendous music under their belt, these boys are about…
TO conquer the world.
Follow Fontaines D.C.
PHOTO CREDIT: Richard Dumas
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