The Top 10 Irish Albums of 2017
The Irish music scene is as vibrant and healthy as ever.
It's been another strong 12 months for Ireland on the music front, following on from an excellent 2016 that ultimately saw Rusangano Family crowned deserved winners at this year's Choice Music Prize bash.
If the Limerick outfit laid down something of a marker, it's fair to say that many homegrown acts did their utmost to steal the show in 2017.
Here at JOE, we've banged our collective heads together to determine the 10 best Irish records of the year, and what a line-up it is, too...
#10. Fangclub | Fangclub
The ‘guitar music is dead’ argument continues to rage despite it being a) not true in the least and b) easily disproved.
In truth, guitar music is as expressive as it’s ever been, as an incredible range of genres and artists make exceptional use of the six-string in increasingly inventive ways - St. Vincent alone is a good enough argument that the guitar is alive and quite healthy, thanks very much.
Closer to home, the boys Fangclub are flying the flag for a specific kind of rough-hewn guitar heroics. Sure, their approach isn’t terribly original and they clearly worship at the throwback altar of Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana et al, but there’s genuine passion and skill here.
The trio’s self-titled debut is punchy, aggressive and loud, and that’s all it needs to be, really.
Key Tracks: ‘Bullet Head’, ‘Dreamcatcher’, ‘Bad Words’
#9. Planet Parade | Mercury
Oh to get a good look at Planet Parade's record collection.
If Mercury is anything to go by, we're talking a gold mine of the very best pop, jazz and synth-flavoured sounds of the '80s.
But there's more to the duo than paying neon-soaked tribute to the past. Their debut album is inventive and ambitious, with a keen focus on really smart structures.
Great pop music is tricky to realise, and you can spot a cynical chart-friendly effort a mile off. Planet Parade respect the heart and craft of pop songwriting, and Mercury speaks vividly to such strengths.
Key Tracks: 'Face to Face', 'Zodiac', 'In the Dark'
#8. Ships | Precession
A beautiful maze of an album, Precession leaves an instant and lasting impression.
One doesn't wish to anchor Ships with a tag like 'the new Daft Punk' but it's not an entirely ridiculous comparison, either.
Sorca McGrath and Simon Cullen have created a world to explore and get lost within, one carefully decorated with searching vocals, searching synth lines and the kind of drum sounds that would make Phil Collins envious.
The pair discover brilliant light as they deftly navigate emotional, intriguing waters. Dive in.
Key Tracks: 'I Can Never', 'None of It Real', 'Another Way'
#7. Rejjie Snow | The Moon & You
One of the most exciting, unpredictable and still somewhat mysterious voices to come out of Ireland in recent years, Rejjie Snow has the world at his feet.
Less an emphatic comeback statement and more of a 'here's what I'm up to at the moment' mixtape, The Moon & You finds the former Lecs Luther flexing all sorts of production muscle alongside scene-stealing features from the likes of Joey Bada$$ and Dana Williams.
The young Dublin rapper is at the heart of everything, however, with a dreamlike haze for constant company. The Moon & You may not fully realise clear potential, but it's another fascinating glimpse at a major talent.
Key Tracks: 'Unborn', 'Purple Tuesday', 'Pink Flower'
#6. Lankum | Between the Earth and Sky
Following on from The Gloaming's acclaimed emergence, traditional Irish music continues to enjoy high profile new life.
Having once traded as Lynched, the 'Dublin folk miscreants' now known as Lankum unveiled Between the Earth and Sky as October drew to a close.
A fitting time, as the band's third album would prove great company on winter nights as the cold came calling.
Between the Earth and Sky punches especially hard in its first few minutes, as 'What Will We Do When We Have No Money?' registers as the kind of haunting ballad that deserves to ring out for centuries to come.
Though the album is steeped in a punk ethos that Lankum proudly nod to, it is also a strangely warm and communal listen. Hard to define, as it should be.
Key Tracks: 'What Will We Do When We Have No Money?', 'Bad Luck to the Rolling Water', 'The Granite Gaze'
#5. And So I Watch You From Afar | The Endless Shimmering
As is the case for many bands who plough an instrumental furrow - even one as electrifying as this - And So I Watch You From Afar eventually found themselves facing something of a wall.
Of course, the Belfast collective opted to smash right through it, first introducing a smattering of vocals on 2013's All Hail Bright Futures before settling into a new groove on follow-up effort Heirs.
If that record missed the odd step here and there, fifth offering The Endless Shimmering is the sound of a band back on hellacious form and boasting a new strain of energy and creativity.
ASIWYFA at their best have always felt life-affirming and really quite essential. The Endless Shimmering is a big and bright reminder of their hopefully endless power.
Key Tracks: 'A Slow Unfolding of Wings', 'Mullally', 'I'll Share a Life'
#4. New Jackson | From Night To Night
AKA the quite glorious reinvention of David Kitt.
The veteran singer-songwriter has dabbled with his electro alter-ego for some time now, and New Jackson finally seized the spotlight proper on the fantastic From Night to Night.
Fully-formed and tailor-made for nocturnal wanderings, FNTN presents bedroom recordings with the sheen of a huge studio. Tiny, delicate spaces grow large in an instant and shrink back down again as if they were never there at all.
There's even room for the 'old' David Kitt in there, too, as his wistful musings find new voice.
Key Tracks: 'Put the Love in It', 'Found the One', After Midnight in a Perfect World'
#3. Fionn Regan | The Meetings of the Waters
A terrifically elegant album, The Meetings of the Waters is the sound of woodland strolls and fireside reflection.
Sure, you expect as much from Fionn Regan, but it's the way he tells 'em.
The Bray troubadour is one of the most singular and committed artists this country has produced, and is arguably somewhat underrated as far as our heralded songwriters go.
His fifth album captures majesty and magic from the off, along with a real sense of place and presence. The songs presented here are lived-in, and they are to be lived amongst in turn.
And just when you think you have Regan all figured out, he closes affairs with a sweeping 12-minute instrumental loop that stands tall as one of the most soothing, hypnotic tracks of the year.
Key Tracks: ‘The Meetings of the Waters’ , ‘Cormorant Bird’, ‘Tsuneni Ai’
#2. James Vincent McMorrow | True Care
In the lead-up to the release of third album We Move, James Vincent McMorrow penned a heartfelt and wonderfully human open letter detailing his insecurities and fears.
He spoke of a lack of confidence and confessed to “taking safe roads because honestly I was terrified.” The stage was set for a truly revelatory experience. And yet We Move, while a fine work in its own right, didn’t quite live up to what was teased.
Surprise album True Care, on the other hand, absolutely delivered on that score.
Released without fuss or ceremony, McMorrow’s fourth effort is one of complete freedom and fearlessness, as evidenced immediately by an opener that sweeps the listener away to a spaceship-fuelled science fiction landscape some thousand-odd years from now.
Crucially, he keeps things grounded on both that track and an entire narrative that always finds space for something new. Though peppered with the usual McMorrow emotion, True Care is the sound of an artist showing off without ever getting too cocky about it.
Key Tracks: ‘True Care’, ‘National’, ‘Bend Your Knees’
#1. Talos | Wild Alee
Much has been made of Eoin French’s background in architecture, to the point that it’s quickly becoming something of a crutch for writers - ourselves included - when looking to describe the Cork native’s particular brand of searching dream-pop.
It’s the kind of detail that may well need retiring in the future, but for now it acts as both irresistible hook and quite logical foundation. Under the guise of Talos, French creates intricate, precise structures that seek to scrape the sky itself.
This is rich, cinematic adventure, peppered with the kind of victories, losses, strengths and flaws that move us forward in life.
As a debut album, Wild Alee is quite extraordinary. As a detailed, intricate map of the human heart, it is devastatingly brilliant.
Key Tracks: ‘Odyssey’, ‘In Time’, ‘This Is Us Colliding’
Video via Talos