There are times when everything feels stagnated or inert. While the music being released is great, it’s all a bit, well, the same. Then an artist comes along and shakes things up. They usually come out of nowhere. With no warning. This time round, that artist is Sinead O’Brien. Since 2018 O’Brien has been releasing music that seamlessly mixes rhythmic post-punk and poetry. Her debut album ‘Time Bend And Break the Bower’ is chocked full of these moments. Heavy grooves, moody synths and scathing guitars are underpinned with lyrics like “Praise an honest thing”, “Praise the vision”, “The room has absorbed us / Eaten our bodies and consumed our minds” and “Hear me roar, feel me breathe”. On the surface they feel like slogans, or abstract thoughts, but over time their meanings start to take on more poignant hues.
‘Time Bend And Break The Bower’ opens with ‘Pain Is The Fashion Of The Spirit’. An all-consuming throbbing beat is all we hear; then we hear O’Brien’s vocals – “Two silences divide us, Two silences retreat. It’s the end of all good things, There is nothing left to keep”. As ‘Pain Is The Fashion Of The Spirit’ continues the intensity builds. The beat is constant. Under faint feedback and synths mummer, but for the most part it is just O’Brien’s lilting vocals and that beat. It’s an overwhelming start to an album. It tells us this will be a slightly claustrophobic affair, with lyrics that will make more sense the more we hear them. ‘Salt’ sounds like the O’Brien we know. Guitars and basslines do most of the heavy lifting. This is post-punk for the post-club generation. ‘Holy Country’ opens with massive Simon and Garfunkel vibes. A cascading acoustic guitar gives way to deep bass and crunching beats. And this is the joy of ‘Time Bend And Break The Bower’, and O’Brien. Just because something starts one way, doesn’t mean it will end that way. An example of this is ‘Multitudes’. Opening with a winding guitar and melodic beats this slowly gives way to a glorious string section. It works incredibly well heightening O’Brien’s lyrics. It’s this change in texture, and tone, that really makes ‘Time Bend And Break The Bower’ a fascinating listen.
One of the best things about ‘Time Bend And Break The Bower’ is how every song feels new. Let me explain this in more detail. There is a trend of early songs/singles being recycled, re-recorded and rejiggled for debut albums. There is nothing wrong with this, but generally the original versions are far superior; they feature what Bob Dylan called “that thin, wild mercury sound”. O’Brien does not do this. If she had included new versions of ‘A List Of Normal Sins’, ‘Taking On Time’ or ‘A Thing Called Joy’ it would have been fine, but when I saw that the album didn’t feature anything previously released my interest in the album swelled and made me appreciate O’Brien’s talent. After listening to ‘Time Bend And Break The Bower’ I was staggered. If O’Brien decided to release an album with new songs on it, how many other bangers does she have in her arsenal?
Lyrically Sinead O’Brien is either asking probing questions about how we are or biting social commentaries; “A child is born with discarded wishes on their skin”. The commentaries hit hard and left us questioning why we’re in this state and how to make it better. Yet it’s the questions that remain, long after the album has ended. These are the backbone of the album with the (thing called) joy coming from pondering O’Brien’s meanings and how it relates to us and our lives. Praise the vision indeed.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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