Northern Albums: Half Year NI Report, 2024  

July 1, 2024

It’s always a treat to hear exmagician. Their last significant visit was Scan the Blue in 2016, and we appreciate that they don’t overburden our record shelves unless there is excellent reason. As before, they make woozy, sense-mashed tunes with secret pop abilities. Every song has a flourish, a surprise. ‘Keep Your Nose Clean’ sounds like an update of The Byrds and ‘So You Want to Be A Rock ’n’ Roll Star’ – quiet cool, surrounded by havoc. The chord shapes of ‘Storyline’ are keenly engineered and you’re never far away from a feeling of wonderment. In this respect, ‘Pistol’ is something that Wayne Coyne, your ever-grinning acid uncle, would condone. Bless exmagician and the curious haven they have shored up against the tides of idiocy.


DANA MASTERS: Real Good Mood
Dana Masters is in her exalted place with jazz, torch songs and neo-soul. This is confident work, an exercise in poise and heart. Raised in South Carolina and now a resident of County Down, Dana Masters continues to assert herself beyond her high-profile session work. She’s clearly still a fan of Anita Baker’s elegance, circa the Rapture album and she’s not averse to the popular reach of Gregory Porter. Some fine string arrangements recall the romance and swing of those old scores from Nelson Riddle. On ‘Falling for You’ the RTE Orchestra gets richly uplifted and the emotions take flight.

THE BREEZE: Thin Ground
It takes skill to make a rough old record that’s any way decent. Thin Ground sounds like it’s been seasoned in shibeens and truckstops, that’s been doused in strong liquor and bad fortune. Then again, The Breeze are good players with a simpatico groove, so they are able to get the best out of simple conditions. In fact, that’s surely the aesthetic. Malojian mainstay Stevie Scullion has worked with Steve Albini and Jason Lytle, so he knows that slickness is over-rated and soul can reside in musty corners. He is joined in the project by drummer Decky McManus and writer-guitarist Chris Coll. It’s a useful display of fall-about talent, particularly ‘Imaginary Childhood Friends’ with the boom-chicka-boom guitar that last saw service with Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three. Another prime source is Neil Young and his ability to make four notes on a harmonica sound like the distillation of the human condition. Hence, ‘We Used to Play Around Here in the Summer’ is a bunch of raw exhalations. On ‘Bring the Loving Home’, Stevie takes the vocals while the trio collectively swoons in the right direction.

CHERYM: Take It Or Leave It
They’ve been waylaid and challenged in recent years, but a debut album by Cherym in February was a proper moment. Nyree Dawn left due to health reasons around the same time, but this record is due document of a Derry band in an assured, articulate place. Recorded in Vada Studios in Alcester, just outside Birmingham, and produced by George Perks (Enter Shikari, Gavin James, You Me At Six) the ten tracks hurtle past in a half hour of rage, determination and actual fun. ‘Taking Up Sports’ is Hannah’s amusing slant on courtship rites while ‘Binary Star’ is the moment when the volume drops and the feelings spill. Released on the Alcopop! label (same as Problem Patterns and Blouse), Take It Or Leave It never begs or apologises.

KING CREEPER: Adore the Chaos
Garage boogie and hoodoo shuffle a speciality. Iggy Pop shakes his moneymaker and gives drawling instructions to King Creeper. Adore the Chaos is a faithful response to the gospel of gutbucket, the high altar of sleaze and riffology. King Creeper play with a great affection for the form but it’s debatable whether they can transcend it. The dirty bolero of ‘Little Lover Boy’ is most promising.

CONCHÚR WHITE: Swirling Violets`
An album from the early weeks of 2024, released on the bijou label, Bella Union. Conchúr White has been road-testing these tunes for several years and they hang together decently. It helps to have a voice with range and delicacy – practically a given with the Bella Union roster. Conchúr earns his keep with the small-town infatuation ‘501s’ and the pepped-up production of ‘Before Ten’. A few of the songs are over-fussy and ‘now’, but ‘Deadwood’ wins and Conchúr is safely embarked on his post-Silences career.

BEN GLOVER: And the Sun Breaks Through the Sky
Ben Glover’s new record comes out of a time of introspection. Lockdown and the aftershock have resulted in a record that is worn smooth and considered. It was recorded in Nashville and involves old friends like Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters, Kim Richey plus longstanding cohort. Neilson Hubbard. The title track has a brooding tone that recalls Dylan’s Oh Mercy period while ‘Arguing with Ghosts’ is a discourse between the familiar and the unknowable. As ever, the words are spare and novelistic while the melodies prevail.

DEA MATRONA: For Your Sins
Another Nordy debut on the list for 2024. Mollie McGinn and Orlaith Forsythe have quickly transitioned from rock buskers to something more diffuse, less engaging. The folksy Americana of ‘Glory, Glory’ is recognisable form and ‘Red Button’ is a clear homage to ‘Edge of Seventeen’, which may convince some extra fans. Mostly though, it feels over-produced with a tiresome snare sound and a dearth of real sentiment.

VIRGINS: Nothing Hurt and Everything Was Beautiful
Maybe not an accident that the cover resembles My Bloody Valentine and the smudged vision of Loveless. But sure, that’s a great sound to aspire to, and Virgins already have the local standing as believers and event-makers. So this is unapologetic shoegaze, with an immense application of texture, effects pedals and aural attack. All is vindicated on ‘slowly, long’ with the abstracted sheets of rapture, or the melodic filigrees of ‘sunspots’ that may please fans of Elizabeth Fraser. As with those other dreampop contenders Wynona Bleach, there’s a seeming affection for Smashing Pumpkins which is also a permissible indulgence and a certifiable joy.

CONN THORNTON: Meteorite Season
You can read the DWI review by Eleanor Gilmore here. An extract: “Meteorite Season is an ode to all forms of connection – this dynamic collection of songs holds a bittersweet reverence for both the consistent and fleeting relationships in Thornton’s life… the album title itself is emotive, but also incredibly relevant as an allegory for ephemeral connections that dazzle and fade in the same instant, leaving scorching marks of white heat behind. On their third LP, Thornton successfully captures these wondrous, sometimes inexplicable moments, throwing them up into the stars and asking us to take a moment and look up above for answers, too.”

You can read the full DWI review of Fine Art here. An extract: “The Kneecap album is about k-holes, white lines and low times in a Belfast bar. There is laughter and distraction plus messy company. Voices are raised as the pints go down. They talk about pills and politics, cash and romance. Somebody isn’t buying their round. Always the way, right? The difference is the Fine Art is made by three artists during a feverish transition. They reference dubstep, Irish trad, nosebleed techno, even jazz and gospel. Sometimes, there is drug-induced fear in the bar when trauma rises and crashes the fun. So, the record tilts and falters before resuming the bad behaviour. This makes it weirdly sprung and often surprising.”

Stuart Bailie


Posts Google+