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Feature Article on Choice Music Prize

Feature Article on Choice Music Prize

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Published by Niall Byrne

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Published by: Niall Byrne on Feb 11, 2012
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02/11/2012

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We’re less than a month away from the Meteor Choice Music Prize live event (8
th
March at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin), recompensing the best of Irish bands andartists every year. The Jury, composed of music press and radio journalists (fromthe Sunday Times to the Irish Independent), will have to decide between verydifferent representatives of Irish music today. Among the 10 nominees of the2012 edition, not all of them deserve the recognition, so let’s try to separate thewheat from the chaff.On
Passenger 
, former Damien Rice vocalist
Lisa Hannigan
confirms she’s a solidsongwriter though she sacrificed a bit of her folkish roots for a more pop-drivensound. It’s a shame that her soft and soothing voice gets buried in the mix ontracks like ‘Home’ and ‘A Sail’ but overall she does a great job sharing hermoonlight chills (‘Safe Travels’, ‘O’sleep’ featuring Ray Lamontagne), andpastoral sweets (‘Little Bird’, ‘Passenger’). Despite her main influences being onthe other side of the Atlantic, she keeps traces of traditional Irish folk in hersongs surrounded by woodwind and brass wind instrumentations that never feelout of place or forced. It’s an album of bright and gentle melancholy, the kindyou’d love to play when the autumn leaves start spiraling on your street,somewhere between Joni Mitchell’s
Blue
and Emily Barker’s
 Almanac
. Clearly amonument of Irish music.Strange fact: Hannigan features on the first track of the last album of 
The Japanese Popstars
,
Controlling your allegiance
, also nominated this year. Onewouldn’t have pictured her on this repetitive and unrewarding record, paddling inbig snoring beats and inconsistent melodies. It has this dumb “bigger the better”philosophy that’s trending these days in mainstream electro, and a clumsy senseof build-ups that makes you wonder if you’re drunk or if you should be. Whywould such respected artists as Robert Smith, Jon Spencer and M83 take interestin joining the dance? I guess they acknowledged the fact that the electronic worldwill always be dominated by the big booted hits of David Guetta and Justice sowhy bother? The “Japstars” -as fans calls them- have really nothing to offer to theworld electronic landscape today, except headaches and lousy hooks.
BellX1
are undeniably the most popular act on the list with their not-so-new-wave style, following the footsteps of the Killers. Their commitment to fit into aradio-friendly mold is so apparent it’s almost as if nothing else mattered. On theirlatest album,
Bloodless coup
, they navigate between the usual silly “I’ll never letyou down” love songs you could find on any Snow Patrol release (“Velcro”,“Nightwatchmen”), and the “I’m just a normal guy in a crazy world” electro-jelly-pop tunes (“Sugar High”, “4 minute mile”). There’s almost something painful in
Bloodless coup
as every track is stretched to finally sound self-bored andbreathless. You can’t deny their ability to get the groove going here and there(“Haloumi”) but their blatant lack of self-respect is a real bummer (‘Safer thanlove’ RnB and its Auto tuned backing track vocals). Totally at the other end of the circle, the experimenting and heroic post-rock of 
And So I watch you from Afar
is one of the most exciting things that emergedfrom Ireland these past few years. Such an abrasive blend of speed-lightning riffsand unpredictable time signatures cannot leave you stone-cold. When they cametogether in 2005, the post-rock brand was stuck into the same old schemes, aboring and uneventful rise and crawl (Mono, This Will Destroy You, FromMonument to Masses). They were one of the few acts trying to push the limitsand break the rules. On
Gangs
, their second release, the trio is more explosive
 
and adventurous, going through labyrinths of swirling melodies(‘Think:Breathe:Destroy’) to finally take you by the throat and shake your guts(‘Homes … samara to belfast’). Sometimes the over-technical gimmicks and boldmomentums can be overwhelming but the juvenile fun transpiring from theirmusic is nothing but infectious.It’s pretty unlikely that Dublin weird-electro-pop duo (both in real life and onstage)
Tieranniesaur
will win the contest yet they are the most refreshing bandon the list. Nevermind the childish visuals, track titles and lyrics, you get easilytrapped by their futile riddles, exotic and tasteful gems like ‘Sketch!’ and ‘AzureIsland’. Get together Architecture in Helsinki, CSS and Tune-Yards in the sameroom for rehearsals, it would probably end up sounding like Tieranniesaur’s self-titled album: a joyful, funky and cute soundtrack for any lolcat youtube video. There’s no shame in playing mindless school party music as long as it’s supposedto feel that way, and that’s what this band is all about.A different kind of school party is happening on
Cut Corner
’s debut album,
Today I realized I could go home backwards
, and it’s more about breaking thefurniture and paints the walls in red. John Duignan and Conall O'Breachain’sschizophrenic-rock shows its teeth and looks for trouble (‘Three People’, ‘GoEasy’) as quick as it turns into haunting blues wrapped with ethereal vocalharmonies (‘A Pirate’s Life’, ‘Dumb Blonde’). Unfortunately, female vocals feeloften overstated, attempting to sound as raw as the music, but O’Breachain’s notAmanda Palmer and listening to her theatrical outbursts is more annoying thancaptivating. In its brave 27 minutes, the album’s got too many weak spots tokeep my attention although I can totally imagine some of the tracks here fire upa young crowd when played live.
 Jape
definitely left the exhilarating electro-rock sounds of their first albums for acozy synth-dance-pop on
Ocean of Frequency 
and if the floating atmospheres of ‘The oldest mind” and “Internal Machine” does not offend anyone, neither dothey stay in mind. Richie Egan doesn’t really know what he wants so when hebrings out the guitars it sounds awkward (“Scorpio”,“Its shadow won’t makenoise”), or at best like cheap Metronomy covers ( “Ocean of frequency”,“Borrowed time with peace”). After a great career cautiously led, it’s legitimateto try expanding your musical territory though Jape has failed to bring cohesionand substance to this new direction.As the number of ‘80s cold-wave inspired bands gets bigger and bigger in theUSA’s underground scene (John Maus, Zola Jesus), Ireland strikes back with
Patrick Kelleher And His Cold Dead Hands
. The obvious references, fromNew Order to Depeche Mode, don’t overshadow a great sense of melody andhooks nor does the lo-fi production, just dirty enough to feel like you’re listeningto the band in a disused factory or at the back of a cave, which is the point right ?‘Miracle Candle’, ‘Too many harsh words’ and ‘Gouge’ are some really high-quality sinister hits, supported by addictive bouncing bass lines and drummachine grooves, making graveyards shine like dance-floors. Thanks to its strongand bold personality, their second album
Golden Syrup
is quite a standoutamongst the 2011 Irish music releases.
Cashier no9
recorded their first effort,
To The Death Of Fun
, trying to extract thebest of Britpop baggy years (Stone Roses, Charlatans) and America’s folk-rockmonuments (Crosby Still and Nash, The Byrds). Such a challenge would see anyband fall short of proper musical vision. Thankfully these guys are no cover bandand cleverly produce enchanting psychedelic jams (‘Good Bye Friend’, ‘Good

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Niall Byrne added this note
Recompensing - It's not a word used in common English. Rewarding would be suitable.

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