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Top Five Irish EPs Of 2016

  • Published in Singles


2016 has been a social and political nightmare. The Irish music scene hasn’t escaped its casualties either with The Mighty Stef and Fight Like Apes calling it a day. Thankfully the number of bands bubbling under and threatening to break through is as large and as varied as ever. Here are our favourite EPs of the last year.

HvmmingbyrdKnow My Name

Originally formed as a quintet in 2013, Hvmmingbyrd released a well-received album but broke up soon after. Founding member Deborah Byrne refused to let the dream die and teamed up with Suzette Das to resurrect the band. The pair have released two singles this year, ‘Out Of My Head’ and the brilliant ‘If Love Was Enough’ with its accompanying video directed by Crooked Gentlemen.

Hvmmingbyrd have spoken about the difficulty they have in classifying their music. They combine the vocal interplay of traditional and modern folk, minimalist electronica, and the intensity and honesty of singer/songwriters. Hvmmingbyrd strike the perfect balance between trip-hoppy electro and pop songwriting. You would never guess on hearing Know My Name that this was recently a folk group.

Those who have heard the recent singles will already be aware that the change of personnel has heralded a change of tack as Suzette Das brought in electronic instruments. Though the presentation of the songs has changed, the writing hasn't altered greatly. Byrne was the main songwriter in Hvmmingbyrd’s previous incarnation and her partnership with Das is a natural evolution. So much so that it is often tricky to tell whose part is whose.

The Pickled OnionsThe Woods

Sometimes music can surprise you. I didn’t anticipate hearing anything substantial from a Dublin-based singer-songwriter. I was prepared for self-indulgent, earnest histrionics. Instead The Woods provides a collection of five individual pop songs indebted to The Flaming Lips, Jose Gonzalez, Pugwash, the Beta Band and ‘60s bands like The Kinks and Herman’s Hermits.

Paddy McGovern funnels six decades of pop music into The Pickled Onions debut EP and whips it up into a sweet confection that is immediately familiar but resolutely idiosyncratic. Even that enemy of good music, the banjo, sounds pleasing in his hands.

Singer-songwriters are ten a penny in this country. You have to do something different to warrant any notice. Thankfully The Pickled Onions does that. It sounds like a full band and the lo-fi, homemade production gives The Woods warmth and depth. If he takes himself seriously he doesn't let it show, the five songs here are fun and pleasurable.

Screaming Giants - Found Footage  

Dogging, swinging and singing; that’s how Screaming Giants describe their perfect night. Listening to the dirty grooves on Found Footage, I’d well believe it. The self-proclaimed ‘Drop D groove engineers’ formed in Dublin in 2013 and this is their first EP.

The influence of Kyuss and Queens Of The Stone Age is all over this record, particularly on opening track ‘Throb’. It’s a great stoner rock tune with twangy, lazy lead guitar, and a Josh Homme style vocal over slow, doomy, titanic riffing. It’s desert rock from the city where it never stops raining.

Directly or indirectly, there is a noticeable Misfits influence on Found Footage. It’s there in the vocal style, the Hammer horror tone of the tunes and even the song titles; ‘Nightmare’ and ‘Burning Black’, ‘No More’  are a trio of horror infused tunes.

The production is basic but efficient; perfectly suited to this type of music. There are more good tracks on here than most bands manage on a whole album and there is enough grinding riffage and ingenuity on Found Footage to promise greater things from future ventures. They’re not bad live either.

Nix MoonSoul Traffic

Dundalk’s Nix Moon are a hugely impressive live band. They bowled us over on the main stage of Vantastival, so much so that we had to go see them again later that day. They are the quintessential festival band; baggy trousers, flowing hair and beards, and a barefoot, world-travelling, bongo player.

Soul Traffic is their first studio outing since the band came together a year and a half ago. Trying to capture the sound and feeling of Nix Moon in a studio setting is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle, but they have given it a good go here. They describe their sound as “Eastern-psychedelic-folk-jazz with a hint of prog, and a bit of reggae, ambient, and fusion.” Not so easy to pin down, but easy to shake your hips to.

Lead single ‘Hitchcock’s Eyes’ is radio-friendly and the tune has a habit of staying in your head all day. After many deviations and derivations, the whole band weigh in towards the end of the song to great effect. It’s in this section and on the ska/reggae-tinged ‘Bad Seed’, with its psychedelic wig-out, that Nix Moon really get across the power they possess as a unit. Soul Traffic is an excellent start to their recording career. Further experimentation with the recording process could yield real benefits, particularly if they can capture the feel of their live shows.

Mosmo StrangeMosmotapes

Omagh’s Mosmo Strange are a four-piece band from Northern Ireland. “What began as a songwriting project for founding members Gavin Scott and Nolan Donnelly, has come to life with the addition of Eamonn Doherty (bass) and Conor Bradley (drums) this summer. Wary of genres and labels, Mosmo aim to make you dance with their own brand of indifferent rock.” They all say that, of course, but this bunch play a stoner groove that mixes the sweet melodies of Weezer with the crunchy desert stomp of Queens Of The Stone Age.  

Following on from 2015’s Art EP, Mosmotapes features a reworking of the Grease song, ‘You’re The One That I Want’ that changes the tune and tone without altering the meaning. They turn it from a saccharine celebration into a desperate plea. The guitar tones are blissful, the beats are dirty and closer ‘Vince The Pince’ is an earworm worthy of Josh Homme at his best.


Musos Guide Speaks With Hvmmingbyrd

Originally formed as a quartet in 2013, Hvmmingbyrd released a well received album but broke up soon after. Founding member Deborah Byrne refused to let the dream die and teamed up with Suzette Das to resurrect the band. The pair have released two singles this year 'Out Of My Head' and the brilliant 'If Love Was Enough' with its accompanying video directed by Crooked Gentlemen. Hvmmingbyrd have spoken about the difficulty they have in classifying their music. They combine the vocal interplay of traditional and modern folk, minimalist electronica, and the intensity and honesty of singer/songwriters. With their debut EP due out next month, Musos' Guide spoke to Deborah about the new setup.

DB: Hvmmingbyrd used to be a folky four piece. Then we split and reformed in January, it’s now myself and Suzette. We hadn’t released music together before and we were determined to get something out this year to show the new direction that we are taking. It’s much easier to show that through new music as opposed to just saying it. We released our first single, and that’s on the EP.

We have five songs on it and lots of little interludes as well. Like a 30 second clip and then the song, just to keep it interesting. I will be interested to hear what people think when they’ve heard it because we’ve spoken before about how hard it is to categorise our music. We’re pop, we’re alt-pop, they are the ones that keep coming up, but some of the music has a dark theme. ‘If Love Was Enough’ had a dark theme but a bright sound whereas some songs on the EP are a bit darker and edgier. They explore relationships and loss, the pressures of significance. We wanted a happy, party song too and that’s kind of different. I don’t like to specify too much on the themes so you can leave it open to people to take whatever they want. I know that’s a cliché…

The EP is called Know My Name. The title is taken from one of the songs on it called ‘Legacy’. It’s about wanting to leave your stamp, the human search for significance. I’m not a shy person but on stage I am. It’s hard to put yourself out there. We feel confident in the quality of the music and in the songs. We really believe in them while simultaneously dealing with the shyness and stuff like that.

It's making a statement, mostly to ourselves, that what we are doing is actually good and we should be proud of it. That’s where we came up with the name. We wanted something bold. And the photo we have on the EP is quite bold and different from the direction and the kind of photos that we would have been comfortable with before. We’re just staring at the camera. For women in music there’s pressure to look pretty and pose but in this one I’m not even smiling, which is weird for me in a photo. That’s where the EP is coming from.

I wrote an article about that for Irish Central, a site for Irish Americans when our single was chosen as Track of the Week in the Irish Times. I wrote in that about my struggle to feel confident. Once we’re on stage I have a good time, as you can probably tell. It’s everything else, the lead up, actually putting yourself on stage. Once you’re up there, you have done most of the work. It just becomes about relating to people and enjoying your own music and enjoying the crowd.

In the article I was saying that I had struggled with stage fright and things like that and worrying about getting everything musically perfect. I talked with Moya Brennan from Clannad, who is our producer’s mum. She’s a veteran of the Irish music industry. I talked to her about that. She said that if people want musical perfection they can sit at home and listen to your CD but when they come to your gig they want a connection. They don’t want perfection, they want connection.

That flipped a switch for me because I connect with people easily. I’m naturally a warm, friendly person with a sense of humour so I can just use those things on stage and stop worrying about it. That helped a lot. I imagine that if people were more confident you would see more music out there. A lot of creative people keep their stuff to themselves because they are afraid.

MG: And for the launch, you’re going to be playing with a full band.

DB: Helen Lane was the drummer in our previous incarnation and she’s going to play with us, and Neil from BARQ playing bass. At the moment there are the four of us and there might be someone else but it’s not confirmed yet. On the EP the music is so heavily produced that we want to get across as much of the richness of sound in a live performance as we can. We’re a bit nervous because the time leading up to it is quite busy. We’re playing the Hardly Strictly Acoustic festival on Saturday, next Tuesday we’re going to Norway and Sweden, playing a festival there. And then we’re playing the Body and Soul stage at Electric Picnic and Culture Night in the Hugh Lane Gallery. But we’ve sent off the music and it is being duplicated as we speak. Helen is off travelling but once we’re back from Sweden rehearsals will start.

MG: One of the highlights of your show is the mashups that you do.

DB: We get mixed feedback on those. We’ve been told that they’re too different to our other stuff but I like them. I especially like the Madonna and Massive Attack one. They’re two really good songs and to bring them together and make them sound different is interesting. We get bored very easily so we jig things up all the time. Often the stuff you hear on one night will be very different from what you hear the next night. We change the arrangements and stuff like that. Sometimes Suzette improvises one of the songs and I really like it. She has a great voice.

MG: Was it strange for you starting over as a duo?

DB: I didn’t know Suzette very well when we started. She was a friend of my sisters. That’s how I met her. I talked to her in December. I said “I’m in this band and we’re looking at the future. We’re not sure if we’ll continue but I want to keep going. And I heard some of your stuff and I really like it.” I presumed she wouldn’t be interested. I don’t know why I thought that, the confidence thing again.

Suzette is extremely gifted but quite shy. With music if you want to make it you need to network. You’ve to put yourself out there and she hates doing that. Whereas I’m quite happy to do that. She saw it as a way to create music without having to get into the other side of things. So it works very well.

There have been adjustments. It’s a very different vibe to what it was before. We did it before and all of us worked full time. We had a lot of other commitments. So it was a side project. We’d meet every few weeks to practice. We just took it very casually. We did so well. We released the album and got really good feedback. We had fun. When you have four people and it’s kind of relaxed, there’s a lot more fun to it. You can share the workload a lot easier. But then it’s logistically difficult to get everyone together. So then myself and Suzette had to get to know each other. We’re taking it up a notch, taking it more seriously, working a lot harder. There isn’t as much time for faffing about, partying and things like that, which we would have before but the reward is also there.

MG: Were the mashups like a musical bonding thing?

DB: It wasn't an easy transition. Songwriting or co-songwriting, especially when you are writing about your own personal experiences. You’re not just writing for someone else. It’s a very intimate relationship. You’re making yourself vulnerable. The potential to be embarrassed or ashamed is quite high. It’s quite difficult with someone you don’t really know to delve in to your feelings like that and start playing around with melodies. There is the potential to sound stupid. But it was a nice transition to get to know each other’s voices and to create songs together.

You have to feel really safe with the other person so when they are giving a critique of a song they are not criticising you as a person. They like you and they respect you. Whereas if you are not really sure where you stand with somebody and they are giving you all this feedback it can come across combative. The more Suzette and I get to know each other, the more we care about each other, the more you respect each other as musicians and songwriters, it is easier to give feedback and receive it because you’re secure in your relationship. Suzette was quite polite, she still is. I’m more likely to be blunt. It’s an interesting process.

Hvmmingbyrd launch the Know My Name EP in the Grand Social, Dublin on Thursday September 29.

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