From a longlist of 100 Irish records from this year, whittling this list down to 30 involved a fair bit of spreadsheet tika tika in order to settle on a final list. As always, there are albums I would have liked to include but sanity, time and volume precluded the addition of worthy albums from the likes of And So I Watch You From Afar, Farah Elle, Thee UFO, Jape, Dirty Dreamer, Rosie Carney, Lullahush, Kormac, David Keenan, Rosie Carney, Henry Earnest, Stephen James Smith, Deaf Joe, Inni-K and more.
You have to stop somewhere but insert platitude about the rude health of Irish music here, that just happens to be true.
Below you’ll find the 30 Irish albums and releases that resonated with me the most this year. Buying an album, on Bandcamp or ideally physically (or merch at gigs) is the best way to support all musicians.
The Limerick city artist Martian Subculture‘s debut album Bank Prologue features 10-tracks of bedroom-produced lo-fi psych-rock music that recalls Washed Out the Chillwave era along with psych acts like early Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
It’s an album of balmy, smudgy, woozy music, released on New York City independent label 22TWENTY.
“Ultimately, the album is an experience of a city on an alien planet, which to the potential listener, highlights my experience of feeling alien on our own planet, as a human/artist/being,” says the artist.
The Kerry songwriter is the most prolific artist in the world I can think of, in terms of release volume, other than King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard.
This year, Shaw released seven full-length albums including The Great Southern, Bird Mountain, Spectre, Graduation Night, Karen, and the brilliantly titled If You’re So Good, Then Why Haven’t I Heard Of You?
I can’t say I’ve heard them all either, but I have really enjoyed Bat Sanctuary, a rich tapestry of vintage lounge act rock’n’roll with narrative lyrics centred on the town of Kenmare, pre-teen crushes, school trips to the Burren, listening to Leonard Cohen on a walk and dropping your clanging change on the floor when kipping on the couch of your girlfriend’s parents’ house.
“You’re the girl of my dreams / but I’ve a very small imagination.”
Never change Laurie Shaw, aka The Wirral Squirrel.
Before they disbanded O Emperor made their final album Jason, the band’s most wilfully weird, obtuse and singularly best album of jazzy garage-rock that ended up winning the Choice Music Prize the following year in 2019.
A couple of the verifiable band members haven’t really stopped experimenting since. Philip Christie’s The Bonk band makes music with retro ‘60s tones, jazz and alt-pop tones while Paul Savage has set up shop as Whozyerman?.
Blink, the first full-length from this project, is a 10-track collection of dreamy vistas and psychedelic arrangements that benefits from its unhurried mood.
Cork artist Eoin French’s third album, released on BMG, and the followup to 2019′s Far Out Dust is stacked with introspective songs pitched with the trademark Talos cinematic flair that blows these soundscapes wide open as if they’re being broadcast from a top of a mountain or a breaktaking vista. Which is kind of how it was created, with French largely in isolation in rural West Cork, with input from production partner Ross Dowling, producer Brian Joseph and Icelandic composer Atli Örvarsson.
I make music visually. It’s image-based in my mind. These stories are cast out across the cliffs, the landscape, the roads. It’s all in there.”
The second album, A Dó was completed just before the Microdisney/Fatima Mansions musician died, and was finished by U2 and REM producer Jacknife Lee, before being released in October.
Featuring collaborations with Echo & The Bunnymen’s Will Sergeant, Jah Wobble, A Certain Ratio and Microdisney cofounder Sean O’Hagan, A Dó felt like a more robust, full-bodied record than A hAon, a high point in which Coughlan went out on, as he continued to work on a third album right up to his death. Step right into the TV screen for technological tales and cultural cornerstone missives set to technicolour synth-pop.
“….his dying was always a part of these songs. Not literally but the reflections and the examination of where he came from… There are many layers to Cathal Coughlan. The mischief and the profound melancholy. It’s on show on this album. It’s some of his best work. His death will show how deep these lyrics are, how playful he was when writing stuff like this knowing what lay ahead of him. It shows his commitment to words and ideas. It’s his life.”Jacknife Lee
Imagine I’m Hoping
Since Paddy Hanna found a boundary groove in the seat of classic songwriting styles, he frequently breaks those rules, with dips into doo-wop, murder ballads or vaudevillian sounds before returning to Bacharach or Scott Walker-esque arrangements.
Hanna is never going to shorn the edges of his idiosyncratic songwriting, and nor should he, we don’t need another straight-laced songwriter hanging around.
Imagine I’m Hoping is Hanna’s fourth record and was produced by Daniel Fox (Gilla Band) and was released on Galway’s Strange Brew Records, dripping in proud brass and tinkling piano for the majority of its galloping songs informed by marriage and impending fatherhood, and the throughline of love at the backbone of his life’s new experiences. There’s a cinematic softness and a richness at play here, with Hanna as the playmaker.
Delusions Of Grandeur
It’s hard to believe this is Thumper’s debut record as the six-piece double drumming, triple guitars rock band have been tearing things up on stages since 2018.
Delusions Of Grandeur plays to the band’s strengths of fuzzy and melodic noise-rock with songs about existential furrowing of the id and self-image, and the search for personal authenticity in a swirl of self-analysis, couched in psych bubblegum alt-rock thrills.
If I Never Know You Like This Again
Derry artist Bridie Monds-Watson’s third SOAK album (Rough Trade) approached this 10-track collection of songs with influences from ’90s/ ’00s alt-rock, in the vein of Broken Social Scene and Pavement.
That is to say, these self-described “song-memories” are rich with fuzzy guitar pedals, sure, but also open-hearted lyrics about the quiet and important moments in life. Like a polaroid, the songs are a way of Monds-Watson documenting a feeling or fleeting moment.
Recorded with band member and producer Tommy McLaughlin in Attica Studios in Donegal, If I Never… is a full live band record, as the songwriter cracks open the small details for all of us to pour over and share, whether it’s the embarrassing antics of a partner who just tries her patience on ‘baby, you’re full of shit’ or making small talk about Leaving Cert results on ‘pretzel’.
The debut album from Dublin five-piece Melts is one of a handful of records on this list produced by Daniel Fox of Gilla Band, and other than his main act, it’s the one in which the sonics fly the most.
Maelstrom is brimming with kraut-rock synths, sequencers and crashing psych rock histrionics with the DNA of Melts’ garage rock beginnings at the foundations, with stated influences of Spacemen 3 and Primary Colours-era The Horrors. The band’s modus operandi is finding a dirty repetitive groove and to keep digging in while singer Eoin Kenny soars above.
Hour Of The Ox
For her sixth and final album under the name Katie Kim, the artist made an album in flux. Intended to be an album finished while moving to New York, Katie ended up returning to Ireland during the pandemic, and finishing the record here with producer John “Spud” Murphy.
Hour Of The Ox is an album of sludgy metallic music informed by longing and desperation for a new outlook.
There’s a searching torchlight seeking out answers in the corners of these songs, finding tribal minimal drums, icy peaks, smoky synth breaths, droning strings and occasional soft edges.