Fontaines D.C ‘Dogrel’ – Review

21 Apr

The members of Fontaines D.C met as young scallywags and bonded in Dublin pubs over a love of James Joyce and local beat poetry. They scrawled their own drunken sentiments on notepads and swapped them between pints of Guinness. There’s no doubt that the band skew almost comically close to a certain stereotype of the young Irish Artist but what’s particularly interesting is just how charmingly archaic the stereotype of choice is. Indeed, Fontaine D.C’s debut album, ‘Dogrel’ would have sounded more convincingly at home at almost any other point in the 21st or late 20th Century. A punning reference to ‘no connection available’ aside (plus a sense of existential dread that could also be applicable to any other era in human history) there is nothing to suggest that Fontaines D.C are producing art in 2019.

In an odd way, that works to the band’s advantage. When I first heard their song ‘Boys in a Better Land’ on the radio, it immediately stood out – not just from the bland commercial pop that fills playlists but equally from the other indie songs currently in vogue. In contrast to the popular stoner sounds and slacker vibes, Fontaines D.C are guided by a strong sense of purpose and forward momentum. Grain Chatten’s clear cut voice, full of intent, is placed high in the mix, and he barks down over a thunderous clash of instruments rioting below him. His regional accent alone would be enough to catch your ear but he is singing (though I’m not sure we can really call it singing) passionately about things he clearly believes in.

The band move subtly between variations of punk, post-punk and indie. On a Bernard Sumner scale they sometimes sound a bit like Joy Division, occasionally get close to ‘Low Life’ era New Order but never get as far out there as Electronic. It’s derivative but usually effective; whether sticking to an infectious but reasonably unadventurous thrash, as with ‘Chequeless Reckless’ and ‘Liberty Belle, or going more experiential with the likes of ‘Hurricane Laughter’ and ‘Roy’s Tune’.

Chatten never sounds angry or desperate; he keeps a steely, romantic cool that positions him closer to an indie troubadour than a punk rocker. Essentially he combines the literary, polemic style of Parquet Court’s Austin Brown with a bit of mythic romanticism borrowed from a young Peter Doherty. Throw in a bit of Shane Magow’s bleary eyed wonder and Liam Gallagher’s cocksure swag and you get the idea. Of course he isn’t the finished article yet. He’s a little too quick with an overripe adjective, a little too taken by his own sense of import. Take ‘Too Real’ as an example – ‘the bruised and beat up open sky, six o’clock, the city in its final dress. And now a gusty shower wraps the grimy scraps of withered leaves…’ Rarely do these descriptions amount to anything substantive and for all his poetic intent Chatten’s Impulsive, freeewheelin’ lyricism is about as shallow as an Irish puddle. Too often choruses spiral in to repetitions of vague declarations and hanging questions – ‘is it too real for ya?’, ‘whats really going on?, ‘Hurricane Laughter, tearing down the plaster’ ‘sha sha sha’ etc. It’s banal but usually evocative enough to create an interesting atmosphere at the very least.

So Chatten is not a great lyricist yet but he’s trying very, very hard to be great and that ambition is endearing enough to overcome the occasional lapses in meaning and style. This is, after all, a debut album – and a confident, purposeful one at that. The songs, particularly the early string of singles (which have been brightened and intensified here) are short, catchy and distinctive. In the album’s opening minute Chatten declares ‘my childhood was small but I’m gonna be big.’ On this evidence, you wouldn’t bet against him.



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