Life ain't always empty...
A month after the release of Fontaines D.C's. sophomore album A Hero's Death, now is as good a time as any to celebrate its brilliance. In a music scene that appends undeserved glorification to male guitar bands and their mediocre alt tunes, Fontaines D.C. exceed all expectations with their expertly woven post-punk/new wave delicacies. Eleven reflections, communicated through statements, recurring motifs, dark guitars and heavy bass, A Hero's Death situates Fontaines as some of the best in business.
Conor Deegan, Tom Coll, Grian Chatten, Conor Curley, Carlos O Connell
After their critically-acclaimed first release, Dogrel, Fontaines D.C. embarked on what seemed like a never-ending tour, finishing in February 2020. Much of the material from A Hero's Death was written in this time and mid-February they began recording, releasing the album on the 31st of July this year. The newfound pressure of being yet another Irish band on the cusp of stardom is a serious undercurrent to the new album; they refuse to be left behind, but the possibility is still a chronic thought. Proclaiming that they know what's expected of them, they refute that they have no interest in existing only for audience consumption, ensuring they don't belong to anyone in songs like I Don't Belong and Televised Mind. The general raucousness creates an ensemble of songs that are bold and exceptional.
The album opens with I Don't Belong, a smoky, tongue-in-cheek account of Grian Chatten's observation of fame and infamy, in any capacity. Painting a picture with his poetics, he tells us of men and scoundrels and soldiers, inspiring confidence that the possibly premature gap between albums one and two hasn’t effected the wordsmith’s talent. He introduces himself in the first verse, inserting himself in the timeless tale of the media leeching and contorting everything those in the spotlight have to say. The beautifully sordid imagery condemns being a slave to any one thing: follow no man nor trade, but yourself and your own truth. Chatten introduces the idea slowly and subtly, like an Aesop fable, while breaking up the story with self-reassurance that he is following his own ideologies. The repetition in the chorus is a running motif throughout the whole album, like a to-do list that Chatten must memorize to overcome the paranoia and tribulations he’s feeling throughout.
The paranoia picks up in song two, Love is the Main Thing. Again, the repetition of the title phrase is like a mantra Chatten repeats to self-affirm that this is what he must believe to live a happy existence. The jangly guitars are undermined by the incessant drum beat and static bass; there’s nothing romantic about this affirmation, it’s just a fact. The jibberish outro and made-up vernacular (‘Always aloning/Silently hoping/Alwaysly raining’) trace the beginnings of a man on a trip, like what he’s trying to say is on the tip of his tongue, but he’s always getting it slightly wrong. The juxtaposition of such an optimistic repeated phrase like Love is the Main Thing and statements that he’s ‘Tired of embracing’ sounds like a warped cry for help. Studies have shown that smiling despite a poor mood is proven to brighten your mood: this man has been smiling for days and nothing has gotten better.
The chaotic energy ramps up and remains consistent for the next two songs on the album, weaving the drums and guitars with a specific kind of intensity that only comes from a group who really feel it. It’s like when an actor really gets into the role, using whatever elements of method acting to become the character. These guys become the music. The commitment to describing the feelings that Chatten experiences make for incredibly undeviating listening experience. What this man is telling you is so specified that you want to catch every word, despite the fact that there are far more syllables in his story than there are beats in the song. Chatten and co.’s tale and sharing of experience (be it their abrupt and terrifying rise to fame, or descriptions of Dublin at night, or sordid Irish life) in each song makes the album so personal that it’s difficult not to be drawn to, tough not to live in their world for 46 minutes. By the time we reach You Said, the fifth song off the album, Chatten’s plea to slow down feels very real. The recognition of being ‘on the brink’ is also a universal assumption: the time’s we exist in make it safe to estimate we’ve all experienced the maladjustment that permeates through the music on A Hero’s Death.
The range from here on in is monumental. On I Was Not Born we get a stripped-back punk song that the band were revered for on their first album. With Living in America, there are palpable remnants of their angry Dublin pontifications that we found in Dogrel, too, and which I believe the lack of in this album makes it a true masterpiece. The denouement proves this further: the tenderness in the final two songs makes the album whole. It’s an honest account of Irish experience through a folio of modernist poetry. The paranoia, the history, the experience, the characters: they’re nothing without the truth at the core of this album. I trust and believe the truth of Fontaines D.C. because of the stripped-back care with which they treat their songs, particularly the final two songs, Sunny and No. In No, Chatten lays his soul out bare after sharing with the world a rollercoaster of barricaded emotions, and he exposes it as tender. The vocals paired only with the guitars is quiet fade-out to an album of true, noisy brilliance; a delicate final act that gives you space to think about the experience you’ve just been allowed to share in.
With inspiration from The Beach Boys, their more honest, refined and bold sound is a definite ode to past Irish bands, like A House, Microdisney and even The Dubliners, while decidedly paving their own way in the realms of Irish greatness. I can’t wait to hear them live, whenever that may be.