The alt-folk artist Ronan Kealy trades as the musician Junior Brother, and has showcased his unique musical style of singer-songwriting has resulted in two fine albums – Pull The Right Rope (2019) and The Great Irish Famine (2022).
Catch Junior Brother at Whelan’s, Dublin on December 23rd, as well as Dolan’s, Limerick, and De Barra’s, Clonakilty, December 7th and 28th respectively. He also plays Other Voices this Sunday in Dingle.
A great new single ‘The Men Who Eat Ringforts’ has just been released.
What I thought would take less than an hour took the best part of my Friday, happily chipping down 20-something valid contenders for song of the year down to 10. My inarguably inspired and brilliant selection of material is below:
Benjamin Earl Turner
Insane, brilliant visuals accompany this amazing track by this Oakland rapper. Filled with self-doubt and a manic flow over an uptempo, G-Funk-inspired beat, things get nice and spacey for the second half, “BENT”. The track and the video really do go hand-in-hand, and the whole thing is an inspired, ambitious, disturbingly gas piece of work.
cé mo dhuine siúl sa hi-vis?
Fantastic atmospheres this crowd can conjure up, and this new tune is no different. It’s from their new album 424, which was put out November 24th. Everyone reading these words must ring their mother immediately, roar loudly “We must listen to Trá Pháidín”, and, together, purchase all of their work on Bandcamp as a maternal bonding activity.
JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown
SCARING THE HOES
An amazing piece of work from a mind-meltingly great project from two of my favourites. The whole record was produced on an SP-404, which is more than enough to warrant a handshake from me, for any human or man. In Peggy’s words “This is what we would sound like in the ‘90’s with no Pro Tools. I’m done using the 404 now.”
I’ve been a huge fan of Rachael Lavelle for about six or seven years now, and over that time her sound has developed from being simply extraordinary to being also truly unique, fascinating and brilliant. This song is one of her best, and closes out the new album powerfully. Top marks also for featuring Doireann Ní Bhriain, the voice of Dublin’s Luas tram system, delivering a monologue that’s both moving and strangely hilarious. You must take all of your money out of your wallet, log into bandcamp.com, and listen to Rachael Lavelle immediately. That is a threat.
Oftentimes this year, my girlfriend has had occasion to blast noname’s ‘namesake’ out of our JBL speaker, and each time without fail, I have had cause to stop whatever I’m doing, to listen and simply say, “Jaysus.”
The groove is bulletproof, the flow is relentless, the production slick, the message uncompromising. Through noname and the listening habits of my girlfriend, I have discovered other great Chicago rappers such as Saba and Joseph Chilliams, all amazing talents in their own respective ways, and all projecting vibes of great soundness, independence and originality.
Water From Your Eyes
A very exciting and thrilling project is Water From Your Eyes. Their sound is very futuristic to my humble ears and eardrum, yet this particular song stood out to me on their latest album Everyone’s Crushed. I first heard ‘Barley’ explode out of a car stereo on my way to Connemara a few months ago, and was immediately hooked by the mad sounds I was hearing. However, it was ’14’ which really blew me away. A sad, slow, powerful tune, the lyrics are minimal, abstract yet gut-wrenching, singer Rachel Brown repeating “I’m ready to throw you up” as the wall of sound around it builds up and ultimately collapses.
Like Rachael Lavelle’s ‘Big Dreams’, ‘Have Fun!’ brings CMAT’s new record, Crazymad, For Me to a similarly powerful close. A very good song for someone who would like to have a dance and have a cry at the same time. Most smart and very handsome people already know that CMAT is a peerless talent who can do no wrong, and for me she is a real source of songwriting inspiration. She has a storyteller’s eye, stuffed with hilarious one-liners that sit beside touching melancholy and devastating self-analysis. An incredibly powerful end to one of the year’s best records.
John Francis Flynn
Mole In The Ground
I feel very privileged to be living in the same time as John Francis Flynn. His take on traditional material is curated intelligently, arranged innovatively, and delivered with a voice of pure earth that goes straight to the heart. His new record Look Over The Wall, See The Sky, is an immediate classic that will be here for a long time. I, also, wish I were a mole in the ground, but only if I could bring with me into the ground a head-torch and a walkman containing the collected discography of John Francis Flynn.
This Auld Camp Here
I’m a big fan of Sharyn Ward – she’s a really important voice in contemporary Irish music. In her own songs as well as her traditional material, there’s a real sense of celebration and deep affection for the traditions of Irish Traveller culture. I love her lyrics, and they are carried with a voice that is full of integrity and deep emotion. In her own words, it’s “about how we wouldn’t take all the money in the world for the auld camp we live in.”
The Scratch’s unique blending of metal and Irish folk is relentlessly energetic, brilliantly hilarious and at times incredibly touching. They have really delved into the latter territory with ‘Shoes’ off their brilliant new album Mind Yourself, which is a real new direction for the band on a few levels. Jordan O’Leary’s powerful lyrics touch on land, pain that is handed down and how memories of childhood bring complex emotions up.
Everyone must listen to The Scratch, just as everyone and their mother must hear all of the above songs and music. This must be immediate and without any further delay, my deepest and truest demand. Playlists must be filled, headphones donned and bank accounts cleared, for now is the golden age of Irish music, and now is the hour of the big big spend. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day.
Niall Byrne is the founder of the most-influential Irish music site Nialler9, where he has been writing about music since 2005 . He is the cohost of the Nialler9 Podcast and has written for the Irish Times, Irish Independent, Cara Magazine, Sunday Times, Totally Dublin, Red Bull and more. Niall is a DJ, founder of Lumo Club, event curator and producer of gigs, parties & events.