2014 saw comebacks from long lost songwriters like Damien Rice and Ash’s Tim Wheeler, U2’s controversial album ‘giveaway’ and one 24-year-old from Wicklow whose career went stratospheric. Lauren Murphy looks back at the year that was for Irish music…
THE last few years have seen a notable increase in Irish artists doing big things in Britain and the US, with bands like Villagers, Lisa Hannigan, Kodaline, The Strypes and The Script all impressing the folks ‘out foreign’. But 2014 seemed to be the year that Irish music re-announced itself to the world with a crash-bang-wallop.
There’s no denying that one man had a lot to do with that. Andrew Hozier-Byrne did two things this year: turn 24 and become a global star. We’d all been acquainted with Take Me to Church in 2013, but how often has a debut album failed to live up to its mammoth lead single?
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with the Bray man’s self-titled album, which incorporated the sort of swoonsome, soulful vocals and bluesy guitar riffs last heard on Jeff Buckley’s Grace — and that’s not a comparison we make lightly.
Most importantly, he knows how to write a great song. From sell-out shows around the world to playing the Victoria’s Secret catwalk show and being announced for the Slane bill in 2015, Hozier has been the success story of Irish music in 2014 — and next year’s looking similarly busy.
A number of established acts all released albums this year, although some were more rapturously received than others. U2 may have meant well by donating the long-awaited Songs of Innocence to over 500million iTunes users (and by ‘donating’, we mean allegedly ‘being paid $100million by Apple’), but it backfired somewhat when they realised that not everyone wanted it. As for the album itself? It was grand. Not amazing, not terrible — but a reasonably listenable U2 album.
Sinead O’Connor fared somewhat better with I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss, a strong collection of mostly upbeat, melodic pop-rock tunes that put her incredible voice front-and-centre. Damien Rice released his first album in eight years, My Favourite Faded Fantasy, which did the job if you’re into ruminative folk-pop – although we were surprised by how much the Kildare man played it safe, even with uber-producer Rick Rubin at the helm. Imelda May turned in another album of sultry rockabilly-pop tunes with Tribal; it’s not a huge departure from her previous fare, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
The Script had what you might call a decent year, too. They released their fifth album No Sound Without Silence, which hit number one in Britain and Ireland. Eyebrows were raised and the word ‘over-ambitious’ whispered when the trio announced their intention to play Croke Park next June — but they sold out the gig in less than an hour. Just goes to show how much we journo types really know.
For all the big hitters that released albums this year, though, it’s important not to forget the deserving albums that might slip through the cracks. Tim Wheeler has enjoyed huge success with Downpatrick trio Ash over the last 20 years, but his solo debut Lost Domain was a very different proposition to the upbeat pop-punk of that band. A concept album based largely around his father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, it was a touching, beautifully played record that caught us by surprise in a major way.
There were big things happening on Dublin’s DIY/independent scene in 2014, and much of it had to do with the Popical Island music collective. Several bands from that incestuous pool of musical misfits — most notably Paddy Hanna (Leafy Stiletto), Groom (Bread & Jam) and Ginnels (A Country Life) — released superb albums that ranged from rambunctious indie-pop to dreamy rock and are well worth checking out.
One of the coolest bands in Ireland right now, September Girls released their debut album Cursing the Sea at the very beginning of 2014 via UK label Fortuna Pop!, and it proved a mainstay on our turntable for the rest of the year — as did two other records released in January, James Vincent McMorrow’s Post Tropical and trad wondergroup The Gloaming’s revelatory self-titled debut, which blended tradition with forward-thinking ideas on the genre. Delorentos signed to Universal Music (Ireland) for their fourth album Night Becomes Light, while London-dwelling Dubliners The Coronas signed a prestigious four-album deal with Island Records for their new album The Long Way, and will release it properly in Britain in the new year.
When autumn rolled around, however, it was hard to dismiss the dulcet tones of Adrian Crowley’s gorgeous new record. The Galway man has a way of telling stories set to his hypnotic baritone, but Some Blue Morning kicked things up a notch by adding backing vocals by the wonderful Katie Kim and stretching his evocative, intimate sound to fit a wider canvas.
As winter crept upon us, so did a couple of late contenders for inclusion in our yearly round-up. Dublin musician Jennifer Evans concocted a wonderfully weird and woozy debut album in Works from the Dip and Foul, an album tailored for wee-hours listening. Gemma Hayes released her first studio album since 2011 with the brilliant Bones + Longing, leading us to ask ‘Where the hell have you been?’
When there’s so much good stuff going on in the indie, rock and pop worlds, it’s easy to forget about other genres. The Irish hip-hop scene proved especially vibrant in 2014 with excellent albums by Clare duo Godknows + mynameisjOhn. Zimbabwe collided with Ennis on their album Rusangano/Family, a musically eclectic and lyrically reflective record, while Dubliner Paulie Awlright — that’s Lethal Dialect to you and I — continued to hone his craft with his second studio album 1988.
The dance scene did pretty alright this year, too. Galway’s Daithí proved that he’s more than just a man with a fiddle and a set of decks with his effervescent debut In Flight, Kormac temporarily shed his eclectic Big Band for his debut solo album Doorsteps which featured contributions from Irvine Welsh, Speech Debelle and more, and DFA-via-Dublin man Marcus Lambkin (aka Shit Robot) did the business with We Got a Love, which clocked up rave reviews all over the globe.
So, in short, it’s true that the name Hozier will be the dominant one on the music section of Reeling in the Years from 2014 — but there are a huge, diverse number of bands and artists making the Irish scene as eclectic and as thriving as it’s ever been. Here’s to 2015.
THREE IRISH ACTS TO WATCH IN 2015:
The perennially popular Richie Egan returns with his fifth album This Chemical Sea in January; has living in Sweden affected his songwriting style or his world view?
This young London-based Dubliner originally built her career on YouTube with quirky covers of well-known songs clocking up hits in the millions — but her original material is well worth a listen, too. With several EPs and singles under her belt, a full-length should arrive in 2015.
Cloud Castle Lake
They’ve been lurking in the background for a couple of years, but 2015 could be Cloud Castle Lake’s time to shine. Their deeply intriguing sound lands somewhere in the middle of a Radiohead, Sigur Rós and Animal Collective love triangle; check out their recent Dandelion EP for a taste of what’s to come.