David Balfe is the creator of my favourite Irish release of 2021 for the For Those I Love album and project, here are his favourite songs of the year.
Boldy James, The Alchemist – Turpentine
Produced by The Alchemist
Al masterfully morphs and chops University City’s Fools into a mesmerising, kick filled groove, filled with memorable stings that never challenge for space against Boldy’s inimitable flow. Rich with colour, humour, time and place, it’s a highlight from the best rap album of the year.
Unknown T – Goodums
Produced by Miink
Miink and Unknown T come together to create one of the most rhythmically arresting tracks of the year as T’s vocal acts as a percussive drive, pulling the listener through the track and deeper into the bevels of the song. No space is left untouched, and as the sampled ephemeral stab of FKA Twig’s voice comes in and drowns the surrounds with reverb we need only catch our breath in the haze of it all, before T lashes through another syncopated masterful flow. Incredible.
SPIDER – I’M FINE! I’M GOOD! I’M PERFECT!
Produced by SPIDER
I’M FINE! I’M GOOD! I’M PERFECT! drags me right back to the bashful and stoic days of my teens, hiding away from the truth and convincing myself all is well. It’s an incredible journey of nostalgia and audible psychedelia, bringing the crunchy overdriven synths of King Knight era Salem to the fore, as spiraling melodies infect and reverberate endlessly in the mind.
This is wonderful pop music with a tongue in cheek ‘fuck you’ thrown in. A highlight of the year.
Kanye West – Jesus Lord
Produced by Kanye West, Swizz Beats, Gesaffelstein, Mike Dean
A career highlight in the middle of a scattered, difficult album. Jesus Lord is Kanye at his best in years. Mournful, anthemic organs, sparse and simple percussion lay groundwork for an insightful track that bounces from introspective terror and alienation, to violent and evocative storytelling, resting only in the mourning of those passed and passed over.
It’s conflicting, confessional, and contradictory, everything great about Kanye’s music.
Jay Electronica emerges with one of his most powerful features, typically mysterious and eclectic, sitting in and out of the pocket of the beat and flowing with total mastery, it’s nothing new, but it’s curated to perfection.
Jordan O Leary – Skibbereen
Produced by Éamonn Conway
I’d like to absolve myself of my bias right out the gate, but I’m not so sure I can.
Jordan is a friend, and a wonderful person, someone I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with on tour this year, so understand that these things may colour my outlook on this song, but it is also this song that prompted me to ask Jordan to join the tour in the first place.
Jordan’s version of ‘Skibbereen’ doesn’t play much like its forefathers, instead it drones in a much darker place, a piercing vocal crying vengeance. It warbles and dredges along bringing the listener into a staccato induced hypnosis, and I saw this ever night of the tour as I walked out and hid at the back, entranced by Jordan’s virtuoso playing and mournful wail, reducing a chattering room to silence every time.
It’s a timeless song, yeah, but this is a very of the moment playing of it, and it is astounding.
Injury Reserve – Knees
Produced by Parker Corey
Knees marries a Black Midi sample with off kilter percussion, bursts of ambient sonics, and a near demo like approach to vocals, trying out one melody after another, never quite sticking around long enough for you to get comfortable. The mesh stretches and morphs, swirling around your ears like 100 whispers in a small room. At its heart, it’s a beautiful pop song stripped of its form and function.
It’s impossible to ignore the grief that haunts this record. Grogg’s vocals float in and out of the grooves with tenderness and reverence, to the point that they feel ethereal, like he’s just barely there. It’s a bitter listen that somehow comforts, like the first cigarette after a funeral. It’s also some of the most forward thinking music I’ve heard in years. RIP Groggs.
Ghetts – Mozambique (featuring Jaykae and Moonchild Sanelly)
Produced by Rude Kid
A career best, which has Ghetts bookending a menacing and catchy track flanked by two unique features, all on a Rude Kid rhythm which samples from his early career as Ghetto.
The textures are rich and captivating and help to emphasise the bloodthirsty storytelling that violently swings between victim and perpetrator, all in the shadow of a life where more was promised, but less was received.
The whole album feels like a reckoning.
Turnstile – Blackout
Produced by Mike Elizondo
I’ve never been a Turnstile fan. Despite peers pushing both Time & Space, and Nonstop Feeling on me with endless enthusiasm, I always found it empty and without bite.
To that point, I felt almost no incentive to listen to Glow On, but on a late night drive home, I stuck it on and within the first three tracks felt a near transformative experience.
Blackout is a relentless tour through soaring guitars, nostalgic drum programming, and hook after hook after hook. This is the sound of victory and survival and few things have spoken to me as much as this has this year.
And if it makes you feel alive
Well, then I’m happy I provide
Say it again, Brendan.
John Francis Flynn – Bring Me Home (Part i,ii,iii)
Produced by Brendan Jenkinson
The spectre of Stoneybatter. I’ve never met John, but I’ve seen him on occasion from afar through Smithfield as I walk out of the gym or the cinema. What he has done here is in equal parts lullaby, history lesson, and bellows roar. Pulling from Episcopal hymns, folk music collectors, and Brendan Jenkinson’s production, the result is breathtaking and life affirming.
I was on a late night flight recently, returning home, exhausted and a little cut.
With the cabin lights dimmed, we hit a patch of turbulence just as the closing of I Would Not Live Always pushed into raucous chaos. I thought, yeah, this all makes sense, the rumble of the world, on the cusp of crossing over, this is how this song feels. It’s an extraordinary trinity and the best piece of Irish music released this year.
Adele – Easy On Me
Produced by Greg Kurstin
Some time in mid October I caught wind of the fanfare around the release of Adele’s latest single. Without much prior thought or expectation, I sat down on the couch and listened to it. Then I listened again. And again. Spending the following days in a haze of repeats.
‘Easy On Me’ challenged me in really unexpected ways, sometimes hearing the pain and confusion in my younger self, sometimes hearing the pain and confusion I’ve caused my loved ones in the past. In one listen comforting me and in another reminding me of my stubbornness and sharpness. It has an endless depth and it’s everything the best pop songs can be. Familiar, refreshing, confronting, and perfect.