The sound of Corner Boy‘s latest EP ‘True North’ is that of a band searching for its voice. But they don’t take a tentative approach to this like many bands who head into the dark forest of exploration and feel obliged to tread the same worn out path as everyone else to the opposite side, ending up making the same noise as everyone else as a result. Corner Boy’s approach is more like that of five children who all run off in different directions as soon as they get to this forest and come out the other side with five very different experiences.
Opening track Cold Love establishes some aspects of the band’s sound, such as the instrumentation which generally revolves around guitar, drums, banjo and violin. It’s a song that seems to burst into existence and then runs its course in the most naturalistic way, eschewing the need for such trivial things as verses and choruses. You can almost hear the song being forced forward whenever it threatens to revert back to something that has already occurred in the song.
The second track True North is a generic melodic pop song, the kind that could easily close an episode of One Tree Hill as the characters watch each other drive off into the sunset in a corny montage of pretty emotions. It’s the kind of song that’s written to fit on a radio playlist where nobody will be displeased that it’s playing but nobody will remember it a year down the line as anything particularly noteworthy. It goes to show that these mad dashes through the forest will inevitably result in a bit of criss-crossing with that worn out pop trail from time to time.
With Ghost Town City however, Corner Boy not only fulfil the musical promise of the opening track but also make a definite lyrical statement. The music seamlessly blends the Americana influences the band have taken up with the trad sound that is more associated with their place of origin. It’s also the song where Michael D’Arcy’s singing proves itself, hitting and holding notes with a tension-inducing ferocity and dispelling any doubts about his breathy vocal texture.
The lyrics feature an honest and unsentimental representation of how small-town Ireland has changed in a generation, from a place of childhood wonder to one of inactivity and isolation. Lyrics like “We were born and raised by the steeple” which deal with the slackening hold of the Catholic Church in Ireland introduce the kinds of themes absent from the rest of the EP, and do it with a rare level of tastefulness. These kinds of issues could be in safe hands with future Corner Boy releases.
The rest of the EP continues to introduce new aspects of what Corner Boy could be that the first three tracks don’t address. Oxen of the Sun features a Joycean influence in the title at least, if not noticeably within the song itself, while Till The End is a rawly recorded ballad that could perhaps have benefited from some of the melody wasted on True North.
The discouraging thing from a reviewer’s standpoint here is that these five tracks don’t strike you as the kind that can be strictly shuffled into “good” and “bad”. They each have their own aspects that justify their existence, to the point that some erroneous so-and-so could realistically go out of their way to claim that True North is the standout track here. Whether ‘True North EP’ is the kind of record you’ll play again and again is debatable. But what isn’t up for debate is the fact that this record demands to be heard.