Fontaines D.C. seemed to hit top speed on their debut album, before they just kept on accelerating. 2020’s fine follow up ‘A Hero’s Death’ found the Dublin band broadening and deepening their sound, reflecting the emerging confidence of their live shows. Largely kept off the road by the pandemic, the group opted to plough ahead, writing new material and experimenting with producer and long-time confidante Dan Carey.
‘Skinty Fia’ is the result. Meditations on Irishness from a somewhat outsider perspective, it lingers on diasporic reflections in order to build a complete picture through segments of a whole. As a result, it’s a record that thrives on small differences, one in which creative evolution is accomplished through subtlety and intent.
A world where awkward questions are the only ones worth asking, ‘Skinty Fia’ is unfraid to show its hand. The religious evocations of opening statement ‘In ár gCroíthe go deo’ are set against aspects of industrial noise, with the band intoning: “Gone is the day / Gone is the night…” Stark and hypnotic, it leads into ‘Big Shot’, a song that it single-handedly bruising and gentle to the touch.
A record that finds Fontaines D.C. continuing to evolve their approach to space, lead single ‘Jackie Down The Line’ allows each instrument to exist in its own realm. The production feels broader, more widescreen, its sweeping brushstrokes interlocking with perhaps Grian’s most overtly beautiful vocal to date.
‘Roman Holiday’ meanwhile is sharp, exact in its electronic precision, while ‘Bloomsday’ lingers on the gothic. An album that progresses with real intent, ‘Skinty Fia’ leaves two of its boldest moments to the finale. ‘I Love You’ is a tortured love song to Ireland, one that muses on the country’s recent fault-lines – both political and religious – from a distance. Stylistically, closer ‘Nabakov’ is the project’s most expert fusion of light and shade, the halo’d backing vocals offsetting Grian’s clarion call.
By no means simple yet never overtly difficult, ‘Skinty Fia’ is a self-confessed awkward third album. A record about growth, and how subtle shifts in identity can lead to profound outcomes, it finds Fontaines D.C. moving ever outward into a realm of their own. Powerful and probing, ‘Skinty Fia’ is a record that relishes tough challenges, and refuses simple answers.
Words: Robin Murray
Dig This? Dig Deeper: Bauhaus, The Sound, Gilla Band
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