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.
Hvmmingbyrd – Know 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 Onions – The 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 Moon – Soul 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 Strange – Mosmotapes
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.