Aul Boy describe themselves as combining the sounds of three great crucibles of culture: New York, California and Donegal. Apart from being reminiscent of how Edmund Blackadder once decribed the three great universities, you could probably swap Glasgow in for California. The fuzzy midnight guitars and waves of cymbals Aul Boy like to lean into are just as reminiscent of Mogwai, The Jesus and Mary Chain, or even ‘Painful’ era Yo La Tengo as anything that came from under the blue skies of California.
The Donegal part of that description is indisputable: the four members of Auld Boy have been active members of the music scene in Donegal to varying degrees for years. New York checks out too – singer Fionn Robinson has a tendency to adopt a certain NYC drawl to accompany his baritone, particularly noticeable on the jaunty Because which kicks off the EP. The effect is an enjoyable combination, like listening to Julian Casablancas trying to order Big Four sauce on the main street in Letterkenny.
‘Making Strange’ is the second EP Aul Boy have released. While the first, ‘Blue Ghosts’, was a lo-fi affair recorded when the band was still a Fionn Robinson solo project, the songs on ‘Making Strange’ are significantly more spacious and stylistically diverse.
Because zips along on choppy seventh chords. The excellent Natural is all gauzy guitar, vocals low in the mix, and understated, pretty harmonies. The seemingly stripped back Buttercup unexpectedly transforms, about a minute in, into a feedback laden stomper complete with freak-out outro. The EP is a good exercise in displaying the band’s musical diversity, even if Buttercup sounds a little like three separate song fragments welded together.
The emotions in these songs are hazy, of the back-of-your mind variety – twinges of nostalgia, homesickness, restlessness, romantic anxiety. Robinson’s lyrics frequently pick their way around these feelings rather than look directly at them. Seemingly extraneous details are the focus, even as the music swells with urgency. Occasionally however, the lyrics crystalize into moments of clarity.
Take the melodic post-rock of Zuhause. Robinson sings in vague snapshots from his life: arriving home to an empty house to find the light has been left on, recalling a piece of “sage advice” from his past. The mood is restless, but only during a lull in the dynamics does he seem to really grapple with what’s bothering him, with probably the best line of the EP – “would you rather be happy or in love?” he asks flatly. Evidently both are not an option for him. As if the effort of this articulation proves too much, the song dissolves into a satisfying blur of guitars soon after.
It’s on those mid-tempo, reverb drenched songs (Natural, Zuhause) that Aul Boy really triumph. The interplay between each member is evident – with intertwining guitar melodies anchored by the steady thud of the low end – and Robinson’s muted, impressionistic lyrics well suited to the atmospherics.
“It’s just been a sigh of a year” Robinson bemoans at one point. Going by ‘Making Strange’, Aul Boy’s future is likely to prove a bit more exciting.