From The Strypes to Villagers and Kodaline -2013 was a breakthrough year for Irish music

From The Strypes to Villagers and Kodaline -2013 was a breakthrough year for Irish music

2013 may have been dubbed the year of The Gathering, but while Bord Fáilte was focused on importing tourists and ex-pats into Ireland to boost the flailing economy, the arts sector was equally busy exporting Irish talent.

In musical terms, 2013 was a pretty strong year for Irish acts. One of the most prominent success stories were, of course, The Strypes.

The Cavan teens blazed a trail from Tottenham to Tokyo with their brand of rhythm and blues and rock ’n’ roll, making friends and influencing the likes of Elton John, who signed them to his management company and described their sound as “like a breath of fresh air”.

Signed to Mercury Records, their debut album Snapshot was released to solid reviews in September, after a summer of solid touring worldwide.

kodaline-n Kodaline

Having recently supported Arctic Monkeys on their UK arena tour, they’ve announced their own European headline tour for next spring.

The Strypes weren’t the only Irish act to make international waves this year, either. Dublin indie quartet Kodaline have had a hugely successful year, building on their inclusion on the BBC’s Sound of 2013 longlist last December.

In a Perfect World was released to huge fanfare in June, although critics weren’t completely won over by Steve Garrigan and co.’s soppy radio-friendly tunes and anthemic pop choruses.

Still, high-profile TV appearances in the US on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and the inclusion of their song All I Want on Grey’s Anatomy — a perfect marriage, really — means that they’re primed for their first US headline tour in February and March.

Little Green Cars Little Green Cars

Little Green Cars did their bit in representing Irish music on US television too, with a performance of their single Harper Lee on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in March.

In fact, the young Dubliners, who are signed to the prestigious Glassnote Records in the US, spent most of 2013 on the road, extensively touring and promoting their superb debut album Absolute Zero across the US, Europe and Australia.

Their gig at Dublin’s Vicar Street in May was an indubitable highlight of the live music year and they remain one of the most exciting prospects in Irish music.

In terms of acts signed to non-major labels, Conor O’Brien’s Villagers started 2013 as they meant to go on with the release of the excellent {Awayland} on Domino Records in January.

Villagers Villagers

They, too, spent a huge chunk of the year touring, including several big festivals around Britain and Ireland — including Glastonbury — and a jubilant homecoming at the inaugural Longitude Festival in Dublin.

The album, which signaled a strident stylistic leap forward for O’Brien, became the second Villagers album to be nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, although it eventually lost out to James Blake.

If you’re the betting type, however, it may be worth taking a punt on {Awayland} winning the Choice Music Prize for Irish Album of the Year 2013.

The shortlist is announced on January 8, with the winner being crowned in Dublin on February 27.

Speaking of the Choice Music Prize, there’s a pool of diverse and top-quality albums to pluck a shortlist from this time around. Other top contenders for nominations surely must include Bell X1, who released arguably the best album of their career in Chop Chop.

Bell Bell X1

Decamping to Connecticut to record with producers Peter Katis (The National, Interpol) and Thomas Bartlett (of trad supergroup The Gloaming), Paul Noonan, Dave Geraghty and Dominic Phillips returned with a concise, lean, stripped-back album that was all-killer-no-filler and went straight into the Irish charts at number one, triumphantly knocking the aforementioned Kodaline from their perch.

Cork-based quintet O Emperor were another band who exercised brevity for their most recent album, Vitreous.

The follow-up to their superb 2010 debut Hither Thither was a hugely exciting indie-pop album comprised of just nine tracks spread across 29 minutes, but was the sound of a band moving forward without forgetting the dreamy folk warmth of their roots, which anyone who saw them live during the year will attest to.

A glorious array of influences, from Radiohead to Pink Floyd and Kraftwerk, were tightly packed into its succinct running time.

While it’s obvious that it was a good year for Irish bands, several solo artists of note made big impressions, too.

Lisa O'Neill Lisa O'Neill

Lisa O’Neill, the Dublin-based folk songwriter from Cavan, recorded Same Cloth or Not — a beautiful, timeless album with producer David Kitt at the helm that paid homage to tradition without being overwhelmed by it.

O’Neill’s wonderfully idiosyncratic vocals, along with her innate ability to weave a story into song-form, should see her in prime contention for a nomination.

Yet with all this talk of awards, how will Kevin Shields react if My Bloody Valentine’s ninja-like comeback album mbv is nominated for the Choice Music Prize — or worse, if it’s not?

Shields denounced the Mercury Prize earlier this year when the album was overlooked by the awards panel, claiming that his band’s first record in 22 years was “banned” from the shortlist because it was released exclusively via the band’s website and not via a label or digital distribution agency like iTunes.

Shields’ proclamation that there were “sinister forces at work” may or may not be true, but I wouldn’t like to feel the rocker’s wrath if he’s overlooked by his own countrymen and women.

tieranniesaur-n Tieranniesaur

As always, there will always be any number of records released in a year that fly under the radar but are no less deserving of praise. The Irish DIY scene is thriving as bands increasingly realise that a label is not an essential tool to have their music heard.

Disco-bandits Tieranniesaur’s second album DIYSCO summed up the scuffed, manic charm of their appeal perfectly; former JJ72 bassist Hilary Woods emerged as The River Cry in February with a stark, beautiful debut of piano and acoustic-based songs, and Limerick’s independent Out on a Limb Records had a jackpot year with excellent albums by Crayonsmith (Milk Teeth) and Hidden Highways (Old Hearts Reborn).

Come On Live Long, The Duckworth Lewis Method, Cian Nugent and the Cosmos and Enemies also released outstanding records in their own field, from cricket-pop to instrumental rock, finger-picking psychedelia and electronic-tinged, anthemic indie.

North of the border, Bangor man Foy Vance scooped the first ever Northern Irish Music Prize with his triumphant second album Joy of Nothing, while Belfast’s Girls Names and And So I Watch You From Afar excelled with their releases.

Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend

2014 is already shaping up nicely, too, with confirmed albums in the pipeline by Cathy Davey, We Cut Corners, Adrian Crowley, The Gloaming and rumours of new releases by Lisa Hannigan, Jape and The Divine Comedy.

Having recently signed to Virgin Records, Limerick teens Bleeding Heart Pigeons will be one of the Irish acts to watch, while young fraternal duo Hudson Taylor will aim to follow in the footsteps of Mumford & Sons with their forthcoming debut album on Polydor.

In other words, there’s already an arm-length list of eclectic Irish music to look forward to in 2014.

Bring it on.