MODERN ALBUM REVIEW: Fontaines D.C’s ‘Dogrel’ (2019)

Named after a form of traditional Irish Poetry, specifically one that is irregular in rhythm and rhyme, ‘Dogrel’ is the first studio album from Dublin quintet, Fontaines D.C. The album, produced and mixed by Dan Carey in London, arrived amid much excitement; over half of it had been released as singles before the album dropped in April 2019, and I feel the band succeeded in meeting the high expectations audiences around the world had thrust on them. The band themselves show their own determination to succeed in barking their confidence in a way that makes it impossible to doubt them. 

The band were formed in the wake of Girl Band, another Dublin band that emerged in 2014 and brought a sound that blended techno sounds with the sounds of punk rock. Their sound was not quite recognisable as anything heard before on the Irish music scene and since their appearance a number of punk inspired groups have emerged. These bands include The Murder Capital and Just Mustard. Fontaines D.C., however, are the standouts. 

It’s easy to see the group, made up of guitarists, Carlos O’Connell and Conor Curley, bassist, Conor Deegan, drummer Tom Coll and lead singer Grian Chatten, as an all out punk-rock band; given the quick lyrical tempo, driven drum beats and thrashed out chords, as well as the fact that a key energy on this album is anger. But there’s more to them than a typical youthful and rebellious group. The band differs from the archetypal punk band mainly through their lyrics; taking a far more thoughtful and poetic approach than many punk bands that came before them ever did. So where do they fit? Well, ‘Post punk’ is often thought of as punk rock without the rock, and Fontaines D.C seem to adhere to this loose description. What’s more important though, is what the album sounds like.

Key themes in the album’s lyric include classic punk topics; disenchantment, anger and apathy are all present here, but there’s a complexity to the lyrics on the record not found in simple punk-rock slogans. The band first bonded over a love of poetry and beer, and lead singer, Grian Chatten, has spoken of his personal admiration for Irish poets such as James Joyce. I think it’s the poetic lyricism that gives Fontaines D.C. the bulk of their individuality and sets them apart from bands of a similar type. 

Though the lyrics on the record are difficult to intemperate at times, Chatten is clearly giving the listener an observational perspective of the band’s hometown, Dublin, a place he sees as giving way to the tide of modern life. ‘Liberty Belle’ for example is about a place on the cusp of gentrification; “…when the cold wind blows down news of the marriage of the socialites money to another ones hand…” sings Chatten, displaying a distrust of the future Dublin may soon have. They’re not so much raging against the proverbial, but acting as the all knowing observers, watching the culture and communities in Dublin transform before their eyes. As well as a distrust of what may be, Chatten also writes about a distrust of what already is; track number seven on the album ‘The Lotts’, written about an area of Dublin, connotes a dark, dirty street corner on which much illicit activity takes place. Track 10, ‘Boys in the Better Land’, follows suit and talks of the general struggles of working class life, and a deep desire to leave; “…doesn’t matter what you are – get yourself a good car and get out of here.” for example,is a line repeated somewhat on the track. Lyrically speaking, it’s clear that a number of points are being made by the band here and the songs do a fantastic job of connoting and conveying the feelings felt at the time of writing. The words are more poems than they are lyrics, deeply compelling and thoughtful,  they make the LP feel like the place it’s written about. 

Musically, the album is as impressive as it is lyrically. The sound itself takes clear inspiration from a number of bands, The Pogues, The Cure and Joy Division are only a few of the bands I can hear echoes of here, but they incorporate their inspirations into the makeup of their sound with such mastery that they are able to craft their own original sound. They are often classed as a post-punk band and there are some classic punk sounds on the record but to my mind they are a band of much more varied and complex musicianship than their ‘post punk’ label would suggest. Musical standouts for me include track six, ‘Roy’s Tune’ on which the joyful music  juxtaposes the track’s lyric, track 8, ‘Chequeless Reckless’ a song so raw it almost sounds like a Sex Pistols track and the album’s closer, ‘Dublin City Sky’, which has the band stripped back and sounds almost folky in its nature, gives the album a fantastic closer. 

Overall I think ‘Dogrel’ is an outstanding album. It has compelling lyrics, musical complexity and inspired tone that all play their part in giving the band a unique sound. For me, the quintet are one of the best new bands to emerge in the last 10 years and this album might just be my favourite ever debut. Its an album I will go back to time and time again.

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