We hear enough about the perils of Difficult Second Album Syndrome to forget that for certain artists the transition to a full-length debut can be just as challenging. See, as an exemplar, Corkman Talos (Eoin French). French has been romping about the Irish music scene, and making substantial splashes in ponds a great deal larger than our own, for three or four years now.
A previous Plec Pick, he already had a string of notably memorable singles to his back before the arrival of ‘Wild Alee’. His mixture of parched, hazy atmospherics, acrobatic vocals, and a wonderful melodic ear have rightly placed him to the forefront of the current crop of Irish artists.
The transition to a full album results in a mostly impressive haul of tracks, but Wild Alee never feels totally comfortable in its own skin. Oddly, it suffers at points from a bizarre combination of seeming both too repetitive, while also slightly lacking in a clear musical identity.
For one thing, ‘Wild Alee’s’ survivals from French’s previous releases, In Time, Tethered Bones and last year’s hit Your Love is an Island still comprise his finest work. Tethered Bones in particular has been of this world since 2014, but still features as a highlight, skilfully looping around itself and building up to a banging, synth-heavy conclusion.
There are hints scattered throughout the record that Talos could veer off into more properly electronic territory, or else in the direction of stadium pop in years to come; there is little doubt that he would thrive at either, but there are moments where these brief excursions (see the conclusion of Contra, or mid-album track This Is Us Colliding) jar a little with the plaintive, exacting nature of French’s finest work.
None of this suggests that this is not a seriously impressive album for the most part. True, some of the lyrical content may end up seeming hard to take serious by some – French has something of a penchant for mystical Yeatsian whimsy, as in opener Runaway’s repeated refrain of “Run away, child”, or Contra’s promise to “Offset your tomb, and pull you from the sea”.
Aside from that, it would be hard to quibble. Runaway and Odyssey succeed in drawing the listener into the project, the latter in particular performing a real exhibition of French’s vocal ability and musical sense. The sparse, acoustic guitar-heavy Endgame bristles with an intimate tension. Many tracks imbue themes of love, sex, and turbulent-sounding relationships with an almost spiritual import.
These songs certainly belong together, and the inattentive listener may not have the easiest time distinguishing one from the other when all’s said and done. There are a few moments out of left-field, not least on Piece[s], where a heavenly piano line sees French play boy soprano in an almost choral setting. Appropriately for an album recorded in Iceland, Wetlands’serves as an application for the Sigur Ros spot on future BBC nature montages.
Indeed it isn’t hard to imagine Talos carving out a respectably sized niche at the edges of popular consciousness for any number of reasons. He has the musical skill and the songwriting edge to make it there, and with a couple of tweaks and some luck going his way, you wouldn’t want to bet against him.