St Bishop’s Debut EP ‘Close’ Embodies Queer Pop with Electronic Twists and Turns

By Sophia McDonald

Floating on the cosmic dream that is queer pop, the modern music landscape is being influenced by the best in the LGBTQ+ community. The Irish scene is hot on the heels of the best trend to happen to music in years, with the likes of Babylamb, Jack Rua, and PureGrand producing lush pop. 

St. Bishop is no different. Playing with an electronic sound and an indie feel, his tracks emulate recent Sam Smith with hints of Dermot Kennedy and Troye Sivan sprinkled in. With bouncing rhythms and infectious melodies, the Close EP solidifies St. Bishop’s place amongst his Irish peers. Exploring love and positivity around a person’s identity, there are no bittersweet moments of realisation. Instead, St. Bishop documents the loving and longing that goes hand in hand with the struggles of growing up queer. 

Opener “Close” speaks to the push and pull of having mixed emotions. It acts as a poppy aperitif to the EP. The production is layered, being stripped back to the piano base during the bridge. The transitions back to the fuller sound, complete with electronic effects, do feel rushed. These minor faults are outweighed by St Bishop’s success at crafting his unique sound, but less is sometimes better. 

This is true in the instance of the stripped back version of “Dreaming,” which finishes out the EP. Rather than a completely acoustic rework of the track, St. Bishop pairs a gorgeously simple piano with guitar. Slipping in muted violins and bass, “Dreaming” is transformed into a wonderfully tender track. 

Piano and synth-infused “Sleep It Off” showcases St Bishop’s vocal range, a highlight being the harmonised bridge. The annoyance of an overactive brain is put to an upbeat melody, capturing the doubt of yesterday’s failed attempts and the anticipation of a fresh start in the morning.

“Porcelain” is a slow dance track, perfect for getting closer to that crush of yours. A more contained track compared to the EP’s pop-fuelled first half, time slips away like sand between St. Bishop’s fingers and the song bursts with yearning. Whistling synths end the track on a sensuous note and strengthen the EP’s themes of queer youth and love as a whole.

Moving from “Porcelain” to “Good Intentions’” the teething problem of transitioning and pacing crops up again, but once ”Good Intentions” begins to flow, it is easily forgivable. It builds from gentle vocals to a chorus pulsating with lovelorn emotion. Underscored with explosive bass and sharper synths, all the frustration that comes with explaining to others your journey -– one that you know is right – comes to the surface. St. Bishop’s ability to build from soft to intense is also seen in “Dreaming” and serves as a defining feature of the Close EP, definitely adding to the peaks and troughs of this introduction. 

Although a little rough around the edges, the six track Close EP acts as a terrific introduction to a star in the making. St. Bishop shows off his talents through songs that highlight his impressive vocal range and ability to balance features of rhythmic electronic and powerful indie pop. The EP is a perfect match for Gen Z’s affinity to love, yearn, and dance about all the sweethearts of our lives. 

Listen to Close below.

Racy and Effortlessly Cool, Biig Piig Blooms on New EP ‘The Sky Is Bleeding’

By Hannah Quearney

The last year has seen a boom in the pop market for unapologetically sleek sex anthems that comfortably detach themselves from the bizarre demands of the male gaze. In joining the upper echelons of sonic sensuality alongside the likes of Megan Thee Stallion or Ashnikko, the Irish-born and London-based Biig Piig distinguishes herself instantly.

Known outside of her moniker as Jessica Smith, the artist strays from conventional provocation or sing-song hooks as she curates what intimacy means to her. The Sky is Bleeding is a celebration of these discoveries, a dedication to what Smith describes as her “sxc dom phase,” and an expertly-crafted piece of indie-pop.

The thematics of the album are reflected in its lush instrumentation — equal parts hushed, brazen, and tantilising. The jazziness of the moody “Tarzan” with its tidy drum fills and pulsing bass pairs with Smith’s slinking vocals in a way where her clandestine sweet nothings are given the clarity that they deserve.

Once we catch a glimpse of the song’s unknown pleasures — the bodies of lovers conjured by the luminescence of candlelight — it lingers into the following track “Baby Zombies” as Smith’s muted coos fall into murmur. Much like an extinguished flame, her vocals are indistinct and hazy — but they harness a kind of swagger that only feels appropriate for both the musical and emotional space she’s carved out.

The leading single for The Sky Is Bleeding is the domineering yet ever-suave “Lavender.” From the hypnotic lull of its reed organ to her taut whispered demands — as embodied by her refrain of “you want it” — we are steeped into the hot seat, budding front-row spectators waiting for Smith to play out her vixenish persona.

The mood is escalated with closing track “American Beauty.” While it certainly pays homage to the infamously lusty film of the same name, something is distinctly different: Smith is not humouring a male fantasy of what female desire should look or feel like. In exploring the realm of lesbian desire — “Maybe I wanna show you what it’s like / And baby, you’re so pretty, we should keep the lights on” — a tentative giddy excitement breaks up the EP’s moodiness.

A brooding quality remains in the track’s instrumental, something repetitive but alluring. As the EP’s closest thing to a single on a soundtrack for a coming-of-age movie, “American Beauty” feels like the most appropriate closing act for Smith’s own journey of self-discovery and sexual autonomy.

Listen to The Sky Is Bleeding below.

Jack Rua and Saint Taint Produce Effervescent Pop on ‘I Don’t Party Enough Anymore’

By Clare Martin

Even with the end of restrictions imminent here in Ireland, the daily drudgery of staying at home and combing streaming sites for something new to watch can take it out of you. Despite these depressing circumstances, wallowing tends to be the exact opposite of what I need, especially when it comes to a seemingly inescapable global disaster. I might be crying, but I want to dance it out and get lost in music that makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger than myself.

Irish glam pop artist Jack Rua and American hyperpop producer Saint Taint innately understand this desire. Over the course of their collaborative EP I Don’t Party Enough Anymore, the duo find a sense of much-needed catharsis. 

Sure, Jack Rua may be singing, “Yeah I just want some kind of contact,” on the opening track “Contact,” but the drop on the chorus keeps you from becoming completely mired in sadness. It’s the same effect as Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own,” except instead of crying in the club you’re crying at home, throwing shapes as you’re lit up by the glitter ball you bought during lockdown. 

The lyrics, which swing from touching to tongue-in-cheek, are complemented by Saint Taint’s hyperpop sensibilities. After a year of social deprivation, the overwhelming surge of beats and synths provide a much-needed rush of euphoria. “I Don’t Party Enough Anymore” pulsates with zippy, neon synth and thwacks of drum machine before Jack Rua channels some Carly Rae Jepsen-esque pop goodness on the chorus. “Now my world is getting smaller and it’s suffocating to be stuck inside my bedroom every night of the week,” he laments later on. Distortion preempts a triumphant drop, a crashing wave of sound that would wash you out to a sweaty dance floor if it could. 

“Lovemelikeiloveyou” still gets your hips moving, but it’s comparatively sunny. High, distorted voices and a clanging beat are joined by other elements until the song becomes an oversaturated, bright groove moving within you. Listening to the track is like the aural version of eating an extremely sugary, sour sweet that leaves your mouth tingling for hours afterwards. 

Even the most down-tempo song of the EP, “Bike Ride,” has a sense of humour about it. Jack Rua laments his TERF-y roommate and how he “can’t even sit here and enjoy doing nothing,” before inviting listeners to join his Animal Crossing island (“We have apples,” he promises). 

On I Don’t Party Enough Anymore, Jack Rua and Saint Taint hit the sweet spot of escapism and emotional release. These four songs are bursting with so much feeling and fun that they’ll be great company even well after you’ve had your second jab. 

Fears’ Debut Album ‘Oíche’ Takes Us on an Unflinchingly Honest Journey of Recovery

Photo by Bríd O’Donovan

By Clare Martin

Fears’ debut album Oíche (Irish for “night”) is the culmination not just of over five years’ work, but also several chapters of the artist’s life experiences. All musicians are vulnerable to a certain extent; the act of sharing art is braver than we often acknowledge. Constance Keane, who performs as Fears, takes this vulnerability to a whole new level, though, processing her own trauma over the course of the record and tacitly inviting us to do the same. 

Opener “h_always” documents her stay at a psychiatric hospital with evocative details: “I shower with one hand / There’s no taps / No hooks and no stands.” Gently plucked guitar kicks off the song and deep, heartbeat-like bass joins in later, thumping in the background. There’s a fuzzy hum in the distance that gives the track a very literal sense of place, as it was written and recorded in the hospital’s music room on her MacBook’s mic. The Shankill native told Get In Her Ears of the song, “I haven’t even tried to re-record it. I don’t want to. I just like it left that way.” Fears’ choice to leave the original recording as is and the track itself set the tone for Oíche as an album that proves both intensely introspective and a skilful piece of experimental electronic music. 

Fears’ production on the album is a well-crafted balancing act, introducing a whole host of elements but with a delicate hand so that they never become oversaturated. She intentionally loops guitar melodies, synths, and other components of the tracks to reflect her own thinking processes, as she explained to Get In Her Ears: “I tried to create a sonic landscape that reflects what’s going on in my head at the time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to write really upsetting guitar lines, it’s more to do with when I’m in a certain headspace, I get very repetitive intrusive thoughts.” The looped parts of her songs hypnotically draw us into Fears’ private world. 

The incredible amount of thought that went into each track is evident, from the lyrics to Fears’ gauzy vocal performance to the stirring production. “Fabric,” which she explains is about “trying to escape someone or something that will not give you room to breathe,” manages to be both dance-worthy and contemplative. “You keep pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing,” Fears sings over a minimalist beat, the repetition showing just how trapped she feels, before singing plaintively, “Just let me live.” Those last four words return later, but deep and distorted, conveying quite literally what it’s like to lose your own voice. 

The following song, “vines,” explores how repressing trauma comes back to haunt you. A hollow beat and rattling drum machine fill the background before Fears tells us, “I dug that hole, I buried those seeds / Now they’ve grown to fully fledged vines / That strangle / The good in my day.” She decides to make a change, declaring before the song ends, “I don’t want to live my life like this.”

Fears moves on to “dents,” which is about both reckoning with her struggles and the desire not to make trouble that’s unfortunately been ingrained in women for centuries. “I’m so sorry for the mess I made,” she laments. Even in her darkest moments, Fears feels the need to apologise for herself. This is followed by one of my favourite lines on the album, ruminating on compartmentalisation and the slow, nonlinear process of healing: “I learned to forgive myself / Take a little piece and fold it gently / Grip tight and hug my knees.”

The interlude of “Brighid,” a sweet home recording of Fears’ sister and late grandmother chatting, sets us up for the emotional tidal wave of “tonnta.” The track follows her relationship with her granny, who had dementia, and the love that remains even as the disease progresses. “Your eyes they still listen / Your heart I still live in,” Fears imparts lovingly. She chants “Tonnta” on the chorus in her honeyed voice, like some kind of primal prayer. 

Fears fittingly ends Oíche with the most hopeful track, “two_.” The synth is at its most uplifting, and in the lyrics she credits her family for helping her recover. Her voice is gossamer-y, but strong in its own way. Fears reminds us that trauma doesn’t magically disappear overnight, and that we will carry its scars with us always, even years after healing: “The lines on my legs / Tell a story of a time when I spent / Too long hating myself from the outside in.” Thanks to her, though, we can realise that these scars aren’t something to be ashamed of, but a source to draw strength from. Fears has seen dark times and come out on the other side, ready to share her story. We’re lucky just to get to listen to it.

AE Mak Crafts Party-Ready Tunes on New EP ‘Class Exercises’

Photo by Collective Dublin

By Clare Martin

How many gaff parties have we missed out on in the last year? The good ones, the mediocre ones, the ones that you half forget about until a mate brings them up months later? I miss all of them, even the shite parties. We were together, and that’s what mattered.

The new EP Class Exercises by Aoife McCann, better known as AE Mak, serves as a tribute to the house-parties-that-never-were, thanks to the pandemic. Despite usually performing solo, McCann’s sound has always possessed a communal spirit. Her singular vocals and playful art-pop beats feel like a call-to-prayer for every weirdo music kid. She manages to reach that core part of you that wants to dance, sing, and express yourself in any way possible.

The previously released single “Jamie” starts us out with some daytime pop, the type of song you’d put on while walking around town so you can feel yourself. McCann establishes herself as an adept, engaging producer on the track. The entire EP is self-produced, thanks to a month-long Ableton course the Dundalk artist took with She Knows Tech. “Never had I self-produced before last summer so this is a new freedom,” McCann says of her newfound skill, and on “Jamie” you get that sense of sonic exploration. She uses her own voice as a percussive instrument, layering it with a throbbing beat and high, warbling synth. The bright, spacey track feels made for throwing your head back to feel the sun on your face. 

“New Friend” is the EP’s showstopper. Heavily distorted, buzzing synth hypnotically draws you into the song and is eventually joined by clanging percussion, giving a slightly industrial edge to her sound. Muffled snippets of conversation are tucked into “New Friend,” evoking the sensation of eavesdropping at a party. McCann says the track is about a new relationship and “not being able to face the fear I have that comes with labelling my sexuality and bringing it into my everyday life, keeping it in this dark, sexy-manic dreamscape to explore in.” She certainly captures the feeling of throwing yourself completely into a mad night out to escape realities we’re not ready to handle yet. 

The bacchanalian banger is made all the better by the trippy Mark Hogan-directed music video, which involves a clown and unsettling face-warping reminiscent of the mushroom-addled scenes in Midsommar. McCann and the crew were even stopped by the guards during filming. Shenanigans aside, “New Friend” will certainly be on my first post-pandemic party playlist. 

Closer “Spacer” is comparatively subdued, but most songs would be next to “New Friend.” The plucky intro feels like watching the sun rise over the city after a long night out, tingeing everything with a warm golden haze. The track is an ode to being a carefree dreamer, as McCann declares, “And I was always a spacer in the right ways.” Of all the songs, this one feels the closest to classic AE Mak. 

With Class Exercises, McCann takes the time to explore her own sound and personal experiences, to our collective benefit. AE Mak pushes herself on the EP, heralding the start of a stranger and even more wonderful era from the avant-garde pop artist.

SPRINTS Hit the Ground Running with Impactful EP ‘Manifesto’

Photo by Conor O’Beirne

By Ellen Pentony

Picture this. No, not the band. This. You’re surrounded by a bunch of sweaty people. The floor is sticky. You’re standing at the bar. “Pint of Hop House,” you shout over the booming bassline that’s making the room shake. You carry it through the crowd, trying to hold it high enough to avoid a mess. It doesn’t work. Oh well, everyone’s already drenched in their mates’ sweat anyway, what harm is a bit of beer? 

That’s what I imagine it’s like to be in the middle of a SPRINTS gig. It’s been over a year since that scenario was a reality, but listening to their debut EP Manifesto transports me right back to the upstairs of the Grand Social, Workmans, Whelans, and all the other small sweaty rooms that used to be our norm.  

SPRINTS is made up of Karla Chubb (lead singer and songwriter), Jack Callan (drums), Sam McCann (bass) and Colm O’Reilly (guitar). They’re a noisy grunge-punk band from Dublin with a lot to say. Their debut EP is filled with experiences of contemporary Ireland. 

“Drones” throws you straight in with a mix of uptempo drums and guitars heaving into overdrive. Chubb speaks rather than sings in a matter-of-fact way about the pressure to prove yourself in a world consumed with comparison: “And you’re getting better / And I’m getting bitter” 

The song ends with a massive, loud explosion of guitars as Chubb’s calm delivery breaks into a shouted refrain: ”Maybe I always wanted to be like you / Maybe you always wanted to be like me.”

“Swimming,” draws attention to the limitations of Irish society. SPRINTS point to political incompetence and the willful ignorance of those in power with the refrain, “the city is sinking, but let’s go swimming.” Chubb sings about how she’s been working full-time since she was seventeen and highlights the frustration of struggling to make ends meet in a society consumed by greed. Backed up with more pulsing guitars and hard drums, it’s a real powerhouse of a song. 

In the title track “Manifesto,” Chubb asks for faux-guidance from an oppressive society that tries to tell her what to do. You can’t help but feel the sarcasm in her voice as she pleads for someone to “come entertain me and show me what’s right.” Similarly to “Drones,” it’s loaded with screeching guitars and an absolutely banging bassline that you can feel in your soul. It’s worth noting that while SPRINTS are loud, their music is not without thought as they build up layers that work together to create a powerful, full sound that suits their impactful lyrics. 

Chubb, who has previously discussed what it’s like to be queer on ‘’The Cheek,” joins a host of LGBTQ+ voices in the Irish music scene who are doing wonders for visibility and representation.  On “Ashley,” she sings about a tricky relationship with a girl. This is definitely the most musically conventional song on the album, but that is by no means a complaint. The infectious hook is catchy as hell, as she shouts: “Why did I feel / like I was going to die for you / lie for you / wait up in the middle of the night for you.”

I can imagine a room of love-torn queer women belting it back at Chubb thinking, I FEEL SEEN. While her vocal delivery is more spoken-word on tracks like “Drones” and “Manifesto,” “Ashley” is more melodic and showcases Chubb’s vocal talent.

There’s something so familiar and authentic about the music SPRINTS make. Their lyrics are to-the-point, unpretentious, and accessible.  While the songs don’t make explicit references to Dublin or Irish culture, SPRINTS offer relatable observations of what it’s like to live in the capital right now, discussing themes from oppression (“Manifesto”), political incompetence and wealth inequality (“Swimming”), to more personal accounts of imposter syndrome (“Drones”), and relationship troubles (“Ashley”). The band have been generating buzz for a while now, and with the release of their debut EP have firmly solidified their place as one of the most exciting acts in Ireland right now. 

They have a live stream from the Grand Social coming up on March 31st as well as an Ireland and UK tour beginning in November 2021. Grab your tickets and your concert beer of choice, it’s about to get messy.  

sohotsospicy and darkmavis Unite on Thrilling Electronic EP

By Doireann Ní Dhufaigh

This exciting new EP on Talamh Records is the collaborative work of darkmavis and sohotsospicy. The union of these two DJs has led to the fun signature “sodarksospicy.” Producers Sweet Philly and CNÁMHA also had a hand in this release. It would have been easy for Irish DJs to feel disenchanted with the closure of venues and to stop producing altogether, but sohotsospicy and darkmavis have delivered a body of work that makes one hopeful for the state of the Irish electronic scene. 

Artwork by Aisling Phelan

Track one, “Glorified,” is a fricative introduction to the EP. It steadily amps up in energy, vocal chops drip-fed to the listener. “whAt” has a similarly insistent beat running through it, propelling the song forward into a hypnotic fugue. CNÁMHA and Sweet Philly were involved with the production of tracks three and four respectively. Track three, “Glorified (Sweet Philly Dub Club Remix)” layers on vocal cuts which add to the sonic texture of the original song. The following track, “whAt (CNÁMHA remix),” is a whalloping, spasmodic closer that has echoes of Stuart A. Staples’ moody film scores. 

Speaking on the musical inspiration for the EP, sohotsospicy says, ‘With his hardcore sound and my jersey club bounce roots, we knew we could produce some real STOMPERS that would go off in the clubs.”

The EP ultimately is a cohesive and heady delight. The insatiable beats hit off some neural groove rendered in a basement club pre-pandemic. That is to say, sodarksospicy is immersive, and the thought of experiencing the work of these two Irish talents is a giddy prospect.

NewDad Make a Splash with Their Dazzling Debut EP ‘Waves’

By Clare Martin

You get the sense listening to NewDad that if they get the support they deserve, they’re destined to be the next celebrated Irish indie export.

I know that sounds like hyperbole or like I’m getting ahead of myself, but it’s hard not to feel this way after listening to the four-piece’s spectacular debut EP Waves, out on March 26th via Fair Youth Records. NewDad’s sonic influences include the likes of The Cure, but in terms of Irish groups they fall closest to Just Mustard’s reverb-soaked sound—appropriate considering that Waves was produced and mixed by Chris Ryan, who’s also worked with Just Mustard. 

The Galway band’s songs don’t have the same unnerving undercurrent to them, though, as those of the Dundalk five-piece. NewDad—made up of Julie Dawson (vocals, guitar), Áindle O’Beirn (bass), Sean O’Dowd (guitar), Fiachra Parslow (drums)—weave together shoegaze-tinged tracks with hazy guitar and drums that oscillate between laid-back and stirring. Their dreamy slacker rock has arrived just in time as we’re getting that grand stretch in the evening. These half a dozen songs are meant to be blared out of a portable speaker as you share a bag of cans and goof around with your mates. Or, if you’re feeling the pandemic blues, they’re also well suited for looking moodily out the window and contemplating your existence. 

Opener “Drown” pulls you in immediately with insistent percussion and DIIV-esque guitar. Dawson languidly sings, “Take me to the sea / Then drown me,” and later, “I want to feel the cold / And I don’t want to know what happens when you get old.” Their simple but moving lyrics succinctly capture what it’s like when you’re young and all you want is to be overwhelmed or be numb, but either way not to live in the boring, grey in-between. 

“I Don’t Recognise You” tells the tale of a friend who’s struggling because they’re partying too much or using substances to escape their reality. “Why do you want to waste your time? Why do you want to lose your mind?” Dawson implores, and the words feel all-too-familiar for young people in a country where our mental health services are maxed out, so people turn to other places to deal with the heaviness of life. The track may sound lackadaisical, but the lyrics suggest otherwise. 

“Slowly” and “Blue” were, like “I Don’t Recognise You,” released before the EP, but with the other three songs they cement NewDad’s lush sound. Squealing distortion on the guitar and thundering drums make “Slowly” one of Waves’ grungier tracks, while “Blue” is just as listless and pensive as the title suggests. 

The penultimate song, “Hide,” is drenched in summery sadness. “I just don’t want to feel anything / I’d rather hide,” Dawson proclaims, a line that feels like it’s pulled out of a teenage diary in the best way possible. NewDad speak to those all-consuming, heart wrenching adolescent emotions in a way that still feels wise beyond their years. 

Ebbing and flowing in energy, the title track more than lives up to its name. The band members mimic the sounds of the sea with their instruments and evoke the vastness of the ocean with pangs of either synth or steel pedal guitar. The drums crash against your eardrums like waves upon the shore.

NewDad have arrived, fully formed and ready to take the island by storm.