It's been another bumper year for Irish music with the emergence of new acts like CMAT and the return of established acts such as Gilla Band and Fontaines D.C., while lots of acts proved it wasn't a fluke with impressive difficult second albums.
Here's some of our favourite Irish albums what we enjoyed this year, in alphabetical order, winners one and all.
Anna Mieke - Theatre
Anna Mieke announced herself in style with 2020's 'Idles Hands'. Two years later, the Wicklower cemented herself at the forefront of Irish folk with the release of 'Theatre', a nostalgic patchwork of snapshots of childhood memories and family tales from her time living in New Zealand, Bulgaria, Switzerland and Spain.
There are echoes of Nick Drake in the nimble fingerwork of tracks such as For A Time and Seraphim while the Dean of American Balladeers, John Jacob Niles, would surely approve of her take of his classic Go Away From My Window. Mieke's travels are also reflected in the dense yet ephemeral sound of the album, which is beautifully layered and delivered with aplomb.
Aoife Nessa Frances - Protector
Like Anna Mieke before her, Aoife Nessa Frances returned in 2022 with her second album 'Protector', a psych folk ramble that trades the foothills of Laurel Canyon for the wild, windswept seclusion of Clare and Kerry. Picking up where her debut 'Land of No Junction' left off, Frances continues to wander unencumbered by modernity of pop formulas.
There is no rush. The songs unwind like a country lane; 5 and 7 minutes at a time. Why rush back to the chorus when you can stop awhile and bring the groove to a simmer while you gather your thoughts.
It is in these moments where Aoife Nessa Frances excels, footloose and fancy free. It's a no rush, no reward approach that bares requisite results and places AFN alongside Aldous Harding at the epicentre of modern psych folk.
CMAT - ‘If My Wife New I’d Be Dead’
Brimming with joyful sing-along moments, ‘If My Wife New I’d Be Dead’ established CMAT as an essential voice in the Irish music sphere. CMAT displays a keen understanding of country and mainstream pop structures with echoes of Roy Orbison (2 Wrecked 2 Care) and Ray Davies (Groundhog Day), while her colourful one-bedroom kitchen sink melodramas channel the likes of Andy Partridge (XTC) and Glenn Tilbrook (Squeeze).
Every Bottle (Is My Boyfriend) is reminiscent of Manic Street Preachers at their radio-friendly best, while Nashville and Lonely showcase her straight-ahead balladry skills. It's still not exactly clear what CMAT has against the letter K but we look forward to finding out on album number two.
Fontaines D.C.- Skinty Fia
'Skinty Fia' sees Fontaines D.C. wandering deeper into the reality and romance that began with 'Dogrel', their first album. That was a more rock 'n' roll affair, though. 'Skinty Fia' is noisier, wilder: sometimes it’s way out there, standing at the crossroads of Sonic Youth, Oasis, The Chemical Brothers, and The Pogues.
This record may drop some of the band’s old rapid-fire energy, but it hasn’t sacrificed either their punch or their poetry. It wields them, in fact, with much more finesse, more consideration and much greater power so that these songs hit like a rock 'n' roll band, but with an old poet’s eloquence.
Gilla Band - Most Normal
The quartet’s penchant for angular, dissonant noise and abstract, stream of consciousness lyricism had been well-established even prior to the release of their debut LP 'Holding Hands With Jamie' . However, 2019’s follow-up, 'The Talkies', saw the band straying further down the path, with increased influence from the realms of industrial music and techno, producing something that was somehow darker and murkier than what came before, but also more vital.
'Most Normal' , the band’s third full-length release and first since changing their name, sees Gilla Band offer up the somehow danceable post-punk we’ve grown accustomed to but with some new tricks. Their most accessible offering to date, the fuzzed out guitar tones and bewildering mid-song left turns are all there but delivered in a punchier, hookier way than we’ve ever heard before.
It’s a jarring listen; familiarly ugly yet deceptively catchy, forcing the listener to overcome a mountain of cacophony only to both reward with moments of accessibility and suck them into sonic and verbal wormholes. That such weird and wonderful sounds can be coaxed out of beat combo instruments is a marvel.
Just Mustard - Heart Under
To call Just Mustard a shoegaze band at this point would be unfair and restrictive. While My Bloody Valentine are no doubt a touch point, there is so much more to their sound. Blue Chalk seethes with a muted rage, while Sore leans on post-punk. There’s also something intrinsically Irish about their sound without having to hang its hat on an accent or folk instrumentation.
With no real hooks to be gleaned from the album, ‘Heart Under’ has something of an experiential feel. This is music to be felt; to get lost in. Take the slow build, catch and release of I Am You, for example, which gradually rises to a boiling point. Notes become lost in themselves, while Ball raises her voice from a murmur to loud and clear diction on her “can you change my head” mantra. Still suggests itself via back-masked guitar scrapes and a persistent rhythm, which sees the band come off almost like Protomartyr via Portishead.
An album that reveals more of itself with repeated listens, ‘Heart Under’ teeters on the edge between brooding and exhilarating, while remaining incredibly danceable throughout. A bold, confident album, it sees the band explore the space in between its individual parts with a greater sense of curiosity, often leading the listener down a dark alley. At times cold and aloof, at times primal, its constant battles with its own dualities are what make it such an interesting and increasingly rewarding listen.
The Mary Wallopers - The Mary Wallopers
Following a period when most Irish people turned way in horror at the tourist-trap decline of Irish folk and trad music, acts such as Lankum, The Gloaming and John Frances Flynn grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and gave it the TLC it deserved restoring it to its former glories.
While the aforementioned acts revived the genre with the majesty of their compositions and interpretations of the great Irish songbook, The Mary Wallopers (along with The Scratch) injected some much needed fun into the revival.
Their eponymous debut straddles the line between craic and ceol perfectly, paying homage to those who came before while also insuring that their music represents the trials and tribulations of their own generation. The Dubliners would surely approve of these Dundalkers doing it their own way.
Paddy Hanna - Imagine I’m Hoping
With an imagination as big as Mr Benn’s, the musical world of Paddy Hanna has always been ostentatious. His work throughout his early Popical Island years and more recently with Autre Monde has proven that there is almost no genre he can’t apply himself to without pleasing results.
Throughout his solo career, Paddy Hanna has always played the role of curious outlier in the Irish music scene; a marvellous oddity that makes other musicians feel inadequate, whilst simultaneously leaving radio and festivals perplexed.
‘Imagine I’m Hoping’, like ‘The Hill’ before it, will do little to shift the needle in this regard, but it finds Paddy Hanna exactly where he needs to be; up to his neck in a glorious buffalo yellow fever dream, deep-fried in the influence of Harry Nilsson and Serge Gainsbourg.
Pillow Queens - Leave The Light On
Pillow Queens have time and time again shown a knack for raw, uncanny lyrical subject juxtaposed with syrupy sweet melodies. Connolly’s voice makes the taboo subjects seem almost anthemic and triumphant, as can be seen on the soaring choruses of Historian, The House That Sailed Away and Delivered. Recent single and album highlight Hearts & Minds sees the band open up about fears of inertia and impostor syndrome in a male-dominated industry set against the backdrop of incredibly infectious hooks.
While ‘In Waiting’ showcased a reluctantly talented band coming to terms with its working class roots and queer identity, ‘Leave The Light On’ is a more confidently exploratory record. Building on the raw sound and emotion of its predecessor, Pillow Queens sound more self-assured and deliberate in their approach, while still retaining the brilliant, sun-kissed sound and pure honesty that captured the hearts and minds of fans and critics alike in the firstplace.
Northern Ireland's Robocobra Quartet perfected their brand of of jazz-punk on their third album 'Living Isn't Easy'. Drummer/vocalist Chris W. Ryan has risen to prominence in recent times thanks to his work producing the likes of Just Mustard, NewDad and Enola Gay, and given the rich, varied textures of 'Living Isn't Easy' it surely won't be long before international artists start beating his door down.
'Living Isn't Easy' explodes with the unfettered energy of early deus, setting the free musical adventures of the band against Chris W. Ryan's doom-laden poetry, which eviscerate the neo-liberal capitalist guidebook to happiness. No doubt, a worthy winner of the NI Music Prize.
Soak - If I Never Know You Like This Again
Bridie Monds-Watson’s third album, ‘If I Never Know You Like This Again’, is propelled by one of the most relentless forms of renewable energy known to mankind: anxiety. Across the album’s 10 tracks, the Derry songwriter contemplates their place in the world, their achievements, and failures and whether they will be satisfied with those accomplishments as they take their last breath.
The thematic threads of listlessness during the churn of young adulthood ooze throughout the album as Monds-Watson weaves moments of time together to create collages of hope and despair which, when combined, create a snapshot of what it is like being 25 in the ‘20s as the old roadmaps to success crumble before our eyes.
How do you find your way in a world that’s dominated by people from the last century? A world consumed by outdated political principles? You hold on to now as tightly as you can because tomorrow is too difficult to comprehend, but also too difficult to ignore.
Sinead O'Brien - 'Time Bend and Break the Bower'
As a nation famed for its poets it was only a matter of time before somebody would make a splash in the Sprechgesang realm. Enter Limerick fashionista Sinead O'Brien with her long-awaited debut album 'Time Bend and Break the Bower' produced by Dan Carey (Fontaines DC)
A native of Corbally, County Limerick; Sinead O'Brien has endeared herself to audiences and critics alike thanks to her genre defying poetic witticisms. Her lyrical output owes as much to the punk poetry of Smiths Mark E. and Patti as it does the literary canons of Yeats and Camus, delivered with a kind of nonchalance that simply can't be taught.
Sorcha Richardson - Smiling Like An Idiot
It's safe to say Sorcha Richardson's career has been a slow burning affair. Her debut album 'First Prize Bravery' arrived some seven years after her debut EP, winning her a Choice Music Prize nomination.
Her second album 'Smiling Like An Idiot' is a testament to the artist's decision to manifest her best self through procrastination. While still bathing in self-deprecating 'it could only happen to me' slackerisms, 'Smiling Like An Idiot' finds Richardson armed with a new confidence expanding her sound and opening up like never before.
Sorcha Richardson excels at capturing the little moments in life that haunt you down the road. The cameos in life's rich tapestry of what could've been. the joy of imagining what could've happened if you talked to the person in the corner of the party that kept looking over at you and the sadness of not sticking up for yourself sooner or at all.
Thumper - Delusions Of Grandeur
Ambitious and bold in sound and vision, ‘Delusions Of Grandeur’ is bombastic in the best way possible. From the opening, relentless guitar stabs that kick off Fear Of Art, Thumper leave no stone unturned. Layers upon layers of loud, distorted guitars and pulverising drums drive the album forward, with arrangements that make the songs feel like half of their often Byzantine length.
Grandiose in scale and scope, both sonically and lyrically, but by no means delusional about it, Thumper have presented here a document of a band that took its time before jumping into that first big project. The end product is an album that, while a particularly long-form one in just 10 tracks, never overstays its welcome and at face value, is just plain fun to listen to.