We’re less than a month away from the Meteor Choice Music Prize live event (8th March

at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin), recompensing the best of Irish bands and artists every year. The Jury, composed of music press and radio journalists (from the Sunday Times to the Irish Independent), will have to decide between very different representatives of Irish music today. Among the 10 nominees of the 2012 edition, not all of them deserve the recognition, so let’s try to separate the wheat from the chaff. On Passenger, former Damien Rice vocalist Lisa Hannigan confirms she’s a solid songwriter though she sacrificed a bit of her folkish roots for a more pop-driven sound. It’s a shame that her soft and soothing voice gets buried in the mix on tracks like ‘Home’ and ‘A Sail’ but overall she does a great job sharing her moonlight chills (‘Safe Travels’, ‘O’sleep’ featuring Ray Lamontagne), and pastoral sweets (‘Little Bird’, ‘Passenger’). Despite her main influences being on the other side of the Atlantic, she keeps traces of traditional Irish folk in her songs surrounded by woodwind and brass wind instrumentations that never feel out of place or forced. It’s an album of bright and gentle melancholy, the kind you’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 a monument 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. One wouldn’t have pictured her on this repetitive and unrewarding record, paddling in big snoring beats and inconsistent melodies. It has this dumb “bigger the better” philosophy that’s trending these days in mainstream electro, and a clumsy sense of build-ups that makes you wonder if you’re drunk or if you should be. Why would such respected artists as Robert Smith, Jon Spencer and M83 take interest in joining the dance? I guess they acknowledged the fact that the electronic world will always be dominated by the big booted hits of David Guetta and Justice so why bother? The “Japstars” -as fans calls them- have really nothing to offer to the world electronic landscape today, except headaches and lousy hooks. BellX1 are undeniably the most popular act on the list with their not-so-newwave style, following the footsteps of the Killers. Their commitment to fit into a radio-friendly mold is so apparent it’s almost as if nothing else mattered. On their latest album, Bloodless coup, they navigate between the usual silly “I’ll never let you 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-jellypop tunes (“Sugar High”, “4 minute mile”). There’s almost something painful in Bloodless coup as every track is stretched to finally sound self-bored and breathless. 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 than love’ 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 emerged from Ireland these past few years. Such an abrasive blend of speed-lightning riffs and unpredictable time signatures cannot leave you stone-cold. When they came together in 2005, the post-rock brand was stuck into the same old schemes, a boring and uneventful rise and crawl (Mono, This Will Destroy You, From Monument to Masses). They were one of the few acts trying to push the limits and 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 bold momentums can be overwhelming but the juvenile fun transpiring from their music is nothing but infectious. It’s pretty unlikely that Dublin weird-electro-pop duo (both in real life and on stage) Tieranniesaur will win the contest yet they are the most refreshing band on the list. Nevermind the childish visuals, track titles and lyrics, you get easily trapped by their futile riddles, exotic and tasteful gems like ‘Sketch!’ and ‘Azure Island’. Get together Architecture in Helsinki, CSS and Tune-Yards in the same room for rehearsals, it would probably end up sounding like Tieranniesaur’s selftitled 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 supposed to 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 the furniture and paints the walls in red. John Duignan and Conall O'Breachain’s schizophrenic-rock shows its teeth and looks for trouble (‘Three People’, ‘Go Easy’) as quick as it turns into haunting blues wrapped with ethereal vocal harmonies (‘A Pirate’s Life’, ‘Dumb Blonde’). Unfortunately, female vocals feel often overstated, attempting to sound as raw as the music, but O’Breachain’s not Amanda Palmer and listening to her theatrical outbursts is more annoying than captivating. In its brave 27 minutes, the album’s got too many weak spots to keep my attention although I can totally imagine some of the tracks here fire up a young crowd when played live. Jape definitely left the exhilarating electro-rock sounds of their first albums for a cozy synth-dance-pop on Ocean of Frequency and if the floating atmospheres of ‘The oldest mind” and “Internal Machine” does not offend anyone, neither do they stay in mind. Richie Egan doesn’t really know what he wants so when he brings out the guitars it sounds awkward (“Scorpio”,“Its shadow won’t make noise”), or at best like cheap Metronomy covers ( “Ocean of frequency”, “Borrowed time with peace”). After a great career cautiously led, it’s legitimate to try expanding your musical territory though Jape has failed to bring cohesion and substance to this new direction. As the number of ‘80s cold-wave inspired bands gets bigger and bigger in the USA’s underground scene (John Maus, Zola Jesus), Ireland strikes back with Patrick Kelleher And His Cold Dead Hands. The obvious references, from New Order to Depeche Mode, don’t overshadow a great sense of melody and hooks nor does the lo-fi production, just dirty enough to feel like you’re listening to 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 highquality sinister hits, supported by addictive bouncing bass lines and drum machine grooves, making graveyards shine like dance-floors. Thanks to its strong and bold personality, their second album Golden Syrup is quite a standout amongst the 2011 Irish music releases. Cashier no9 recorded their first effort, To The Death Of Fun, trying to extract the best of Britpop baggy years (Stone Roses, Charlatans) and America’s folk-rock monuments (Crosby Still and Nash, The Byrds). Such a challenge would see any band fall short of proper musical vision. Thankfully these guys are no cover band and cleverly produce enchanting psychedelic jams (‘Good Bye Friend’, ‘Good

Human’) with beautiful and grandiose instrumentations (piano, violin, synth, bells …) appealing to your most uplifting feelings. This first album is a relaxed and gifted piece of revivalist pop: studiously crafted and mastered. Not the most arousing band on the planet but a valuable treasure for the country. Talking about revivalists, ‘60s pop influenced music veterans Pugwash use the same recipe since 1999, and it’s starting to smell like chloroform. The Olympus Sound is filled with lazy, cheesy rhymes (“Everybody knows our earth is spinning all around the sun, but what can we feel when our hearts’ been broken”), and threadbare tunes (‘At the sea’, ‘Fall Down’). It leaves you wondering if this band is forever stuck in a loop of selfish satisfaction. There’s not even one tentative to set the bar higher here, or experiment on any level, try something new. Maybe Pugwash just became an old-fashioned band that keeps putting out music like retired people go out in the park on Sundays, but they certainly don’t need to be rewarded for that.

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