After months of anticipation, Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C. released their debut album ‘Dogrel’ to much acclaim last week, landing them fourth spot on the UK album charts. Having been listening to it ever since, The Circular is of the opinion that the hype is justified.
‘Dublin in the rain is mine, a pregnant city with a catholic mind‘ is the punchy opener from singer Grian Chatten on ‘Big,’ that kicks things off with a frenetic energy and snarl that it feels like we haven’t heard since the Arctic Monkeys’ debut album in 2006.
Fontaines D.C. have a sound and presence that references the likes of Joy Division, Sex Pistols, The Fall and Oasis, but it is the ubiquitous ‘Irishness’ that makes this album feel fresh and important. While there have been a number of talented Irish artists over the past decade, this feels like the first Irish band in years to break through with a sense of edge and purpose.
Formed in Dublin, with representation from Mayo and Monaghan, the five-piece bonded over a mutual appreciation of poetry, something that is instantly prevalent in Gratten’s vocals. It’s impossible to escape the rich influences of The Pogues and The Dubliners, as well as writers like Joyce and Yeats, but the meaningful commentary on modern Dublin is what elevates this band beyond a tribute act to those influences. A throwback with a contemporary voice.
The closing track, ‘Dublin City Sky‘, is a lament of the gentrification of Dublin city, presented in the form of a love song. This is one of several moments throughout the album that capture the essence of how Dublin is changing before our eyes, and not always for the better.
Speaking in the Irish Times late last year, Chatten comments how the band is knowingly “being nostalgic about something that hasn’t quite passed away, yet there is a danger and a fear of that happening soon.” They represent a creative generation, determined to confront the changes head on, instead of passively going with the flow as the city transforms around them.
Gratten’s Dublin colloquialisms and accent might draw you in to start, but the sentiment behind his words will keep you hooked. Tracks like ‘Chequeless Reckless‘ allows him to come into his own as a ranting preacher, scathing at the ills of human behaviour; ‘an idiot is someone who lets their education do all of their thinking.‘
But behind those words is a raw, pacy, yet subtle intricacy in their twin guitar attack from Carlos O’Connell and Conor Curley, that peaks in tracks like ‘Hurricane Laughter’ and ‘Too Real.’ This combines with a rhythm section that, at times, can sound like the grinding and clanking of a construction site, controlled yet aggressive. On stage, this gives front-man Chatten the foundation upon which to pace around in circles with an awkward intensity that is as unsettling as it is captivating.
There are enough stand-out moments in this debut to suggest that something special might be happening. However, ‘new band’ hype can often be hard to live up to, particularly when the friction appears between post-punk authenticity and success. So if ‘Dogrel’ proves to be as good as it gets for Fontaines D.C., maybe the jolt it has given to mouthy guitar bands with an important message could be worth something even greater than a single band or album.