In Review: Fontaines D.C. - 'A Hero's Death'
Last year, five Dubliners, fresh out of the BIMM Institute, turned heads with their first album Dogrel, which fused a spirited, punk musicality with the poetic lyricism of frontman Grian Chatten. Now Fontaines D.C. have sprung back onto the scene with a beautifully turned-out album, one that lets the rain come down with more melancholy and a more mature approach to song-writing.
I love this album, and the main reason for that lies in its production. The thing just sounds so damn sumptuous. It’s no surprise then, that on the other side of the studio’s sound-proofed glass, sits Dan Carey – the maverick producer behind Speedy Wunderground. Carey engineers the instrumentation to its full potential. The two guitars intertwine beautifully on tracks such as ‘You Said’ and ‘Oh Such a Spring’, and they’re loaded with just enough distortion to deliver the record’s dreary aesthetic without tilting into overkill. The rhythm section too is meticulously laid down, deepening the tone when necessary and never at odds with Chatten’s vocals. The quality of the sound hails comparisons with most Martin Hannett productions, or something from The Smiths.
Unlike The Smiths however, the poetry of the lyrics isn’t masked by an enduringly-pretentious sing-song affect, but is instead fortified by Chatten’s lilting Irish cadence and monotone, poetic vitality. Chatten, along with the rest of the band, has been quite open about the lasting influence such poets as Yeats and Patrick Kavanagh have had on him, going even so far as to perform a reading of Yeats’ ‘The Song of The Happy Shepherd’ for RTE. “It’s so inspiring to think that at one stage you had Patrick Kavanagh and Luke Kelly sitting together at a bar in Dublin”, said guitarist, Connor Curley, reflecting on Ireland’s rich cultural vein, comparing it to America’s Beat scene. And indeed, A Hero’s Death follows on in the grand Irish poetic tradition. The lyrics are sculpted with a wordsmith's eye, whether it’s a despairing condemnation of modern society’s goldfish-brain in ‘Televised Mind’ (“They are gulls in the sky / They all mimic love’s cry / And I wish I could die…”) or the nostalgic panorama of ‘Oh Such a Spring’ (“Now they’re all gone / That’s life movin’ on / Some stayed behind to get drunk on the song / And they wish they could go back to spring again”). The Irish aptitude for the act of writing might be a tired stereotype, but Fontaines D.C. are doing their utmost to perpetuate it.
Another thing the new album wields is an impressive amount of restraint. With a stratospheric rise to fame over the past year, and an Alexandra Palace performance scheduled for 2021, the band didn’t just have a reputation to uphold, but a conceptual blank check to pretty much make whatever they wanted. At this pivotal point in the story, the temptation is often to overdo it, letting experimentation run away with itself and piling the music too high. But A Hero’s Death has been tastefully stripped back, which speaks to a bravery and self-assurance on the part of its creators. That’s not to say that some tracks don’t go hard and fast – you need only listen as far as ‘A Lucid Dream’ for some serious energy – but each facet of the process feels completely deliberate; at no point in listening to the album do you think to yourself, “Hmm, could probably do without that…”
A Hero’s Death is a masterful addition to the Fontaines D.C. catalogue. Listening to it, you can virtually smell the petrichor of its rain-soaked soundscape: its grey sky, perhaps even a grassy pasture in the distance, or one of Joyce’s snot-green seas.
A Hero's Death is out now on Partisan Records.