There must be something very impressive happening to Robyn's right!
The music industry has always had a knack for producing antonyms. The serene psychedelia of The Beatles found its raucous counterpoint in The Rolling Stones, Heavy Metal uncovered its heart in the emo scene and now the Irish Singer/Songwriters have discovered their Darkside in Robyn Shiels. As the sugar-coated sentiments of modern pop saturate the airwaves, Shiels’ melancholic musings will bring you back to reality like an insulin shot to the heart.
Shiels’ minimalistic style reduces country music to its elements, finding a melodic middle ground between Will Oldham and Johnny Cash. His distinctive sound reinforces the redemptive power of music and suggests perhaps it is better to be miserable then feel nothing at all. Never one to shy away from the sombre side of life, Shiels returns this year with a collection of songs as reflective as a mirror at a narcissists’ anonymous meeting. The aptly titled The Great Depression delves deep into the recesses of the soul, reliving those archetypal moments of despair that have affected us all. Shiels’ songs explore the twilight of waking life; those solitary moments where light and darkness interweave creating a grey area of calm introspection.
When We Were Brothers” opens proceedings with an arresting soliloquy that sets the pace for the remaining tracks. In his lugubrious lilting tone, Shiels laments “shot a man who was not there/the bad moon follows me everywhere”. The story unfolds like a narrative of nocturnal life, recalling memories long since locked away in the cellar of the human soul. The story paints a picture of an aged raconteur retelling his grand, nostalgic tale from the alcove of a rural Irish bar. The shuffling rhythm of the chorus lends a little optimism to the track while the female backing vocals provide a silver lining; enveloping the frayed edges of Shiels’ sorrowful experiences.
Standout track The Love of an Honest Man marks a move towards a more traditional full band set up with Shiels incorporating electric guitars and a full acoustic kit into his sound. The track highlights Shiels’ skill as a composer with each instrument adding a new, yet understated colour to his erstwhile solemn palette. The restrained guitar riff harmonises with the main vocal line, while the brush-stroked drums provide the punctuation for his forlorn tale.
Whatever it is, it must be quite a sight to captivate so fully!
The slow burning lament Look What You’ve Done serves as the perfect soundtrack to an emotional breakup, freezing you in a mournful moment in time while the rest of the world carries on undeterred. While certainly not a mood elevator, the song reveals a series of arresting and illuminating images that are beautiful in their simplicity. The track delves into the narrator’s sense of despair in the hope of locating some measure of clarity.
This sought-after ray of light materialises in the twelve-string twang of the Latest Greatest Comedienne; a laid back eulogy bordering on the upbeat. Once again, the saintly female backing vocals provide a fitting counterpoint to Shiels’ strained melodies. The track’s elementary verse/chorus structure situates it firmly in the folk tradition and recalls the earlier output of Dylan.
Shiels strips his sound down to its component parts on closing track Hell is; leaving the lyrics as its focal point. Delivered in a nasal tone, the track bears more than a passing resemblance to the melancholic croon of indie outfit Deer Tick. The song features a haunting whistling solo that adds an ethereal air to Shiels’ rudimentary style. Like the humble Ferryman, Shiels will be your faithful companion in the purgatory of waking life. And while The Great Depression does little to alter one’s mood, this contemplative collection will guide you through those troubled waters towards the light of an approaching dawn.
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