Ireland’s Fontaines DC are among the recent spate of bands (including IDLES, black midi and Sleaford Mods) from across the Atlantic who have embraced the punk and post-punk roots of their homeland to discover as much, if not more, of an audience for the Stateside. Proudly patriotic and remarkably well-read, Fontaines DC names Irish authors and poets in their searching, moody songs.
His debut in 2019, dogrel, is arguably the band’s best work to date. Fans of the Arctic Monkeys debut will find similar guts in the sharp defined Dublin-based persona and a proud regional accent. Grounded, raw, confident and unfettered, the Mercury Prize nominee dogrel came up with gems like the one-two punch of the James Joyce-referring “Boys In The Better Land’ and the frenzied rhythms of ‘Hurricane Laughter’.
Fountains DC’s Second Album, 2020 The Death of a Hero† which brought in a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album, quickly came on the heels of dogrel† Predictable, The Death of a Hero focused on the young band’s experience on the road, and the disassociation that comes with a rapid escalation in the musical ranks. There are moments of exquisite Joy Division-esque melancholy on “Love Is The Main Thing’ and sheer fury in the Iggy Pop-inspired ‘Living Iin America.” But The Death of a Hero lost the unique point of view of dogrelas well as the charm of its rugged style, acting in for a more polished, produced sound.
On his third album, Skinty Fia (an old Irish curse phrase that loosely translates to “the damnation of the stag”), Fontaines DC takes yet another predictable turn, that of a band now physically removed from its hometown. The advantage of this is that we look at Ireland from a distance perspective (via London, England, the band members current residence) and exploiting the anti-Irish attitudes towards their homeland’s diaspora – something Fontaines DC experiences through both micro and macro aggressions – for lyrical fodder. If only the music would rise to meet that fertile material.
The actually group pulls most musical influences on Skinty Fias from 90s London† Electronic experiments in the vein of Primal Scream and Death In Vegas can be heard on the title track and ‘Big Shot’. This one are joined by more 90s American influences like Mazzy Star (and early 2000s like The Strokes) on “Bloomsday” and “How Cold Love Is.” More than anything else, Skinty Fia‘s plodding progression and miserabilistic overtones come across as hackneyed versions of Bauhaus’ chilly gothic vibes and Joy Division’s aforementioned claustrophobic lament, only without the benefit of the latter the group’s inimitable bass lines.
This kaleidoscope of influences works against Fontaines DC, a bond that is at its strongest when identity is boldly outlined, as during the dogrel it was. The doom and gloom Skinty Fia still contains his standout moments† like “Jackie Down T”he line.” It is a song about just being bad, if vvocalist Grian Chatten heartlessly jubilates over cheering, Johnny Marr-esque guitar riffs: “I don’t think / We’d rhyme / I will make your secrets mine / I will hate ye / I’ll debase ye / I am Jackie down the line The ruthlessness is palpable.
Also rising aboveThe rest is ‘I Love You’, not about a person, but about Ireland itself. Despite the dazzling title, nationalism has never sounded more romantic than when Chatten declared “I love you / Imagine a world without you / It’s only you / I only think of you / And if it’s a blessing / I want it for you.” Echoes of Stone Roses’ “I Wanna Be Adored” underlines his words: “If I must have a future / I want it with you.” These feelings can easily be attributed to all objects of affection, but especially to human ones.
What made Fontaines DC stand out? dogrel-the Irish identity-driven story propelled by balls-out rock-is exactly what is lost on Skinty Fia† The identity that belonged to the band business card is now the beating heart on songs like “Roman holiday” (sometimes a dead ringer for Echo And The Bunnymen’s “kill moon”) where, as transplants, Fontaines DC is looking for acceptance and connection. On the narrative opener “In ár gCroíthe go deo”, once removed from Ireland, Irish pride is decimated and replaced by mistrust. The pogo-ready rhythms have given way to static walls of guitar and a monotonous vocal delivery that drags rather than propels the album.
Fontaines DC continues to attract new listeners with each album, but the band has never quite lived up to early praise. Yet somehow they have a finger in the hearts of those fans who accept the group’s dwindling returns and lack of delivery, swallow disappointment and embrace the music that does succeed. Like the band themselves, they hope for better next time.