Release date: 12th June
This time last year I was sat in my bedroom back at home in Newquay, reading a Daphne Du Maurier book about smugglers and ghostly moors (yep, I’m that cool) when the songs from the album I’d just bought started playing on my iTunes and something struck me. No, I wasn’t beaten around the head or anything but the music evoked the story I was reading and the bleats of seagulls and crash of waves from outside my window only aided to make everything seem ‘in-the-moment’ if that makes sense. The album I’m talking about was Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim and songs like Night Terror and The Captain and the Hourglass had my imagination stirring. That album and that book are now hard to forget.
Why is this recollection from my highly uninteresting life relevant? Well to evoke something is surely most artists’ mission, whether that something is an emotion, time, place or memory. Here is Brendan Rivera, a singing/songwriting New Yorker, with his new album No Ocean in Ireland which promises (and I quote) “Irish-Americana Indie Rock” plus there’s a mention of Mumford & Sons in the artist bio. You’ve got four different genres there which could go any number of ways but with the album title referencing the Emerald Isle complete with green dockyard steamer cover art I’m going to assume we’re in for the (occasional) jaunty knees-up with some modern rock leanings/broodings depending on the mood.
What is noticeable about Brendan Rivera’s sound amongst the first few tracks is the sheer volume of ideas he seems to have. Songs like the Biffy Clyro-esque title track switch between heavy guitar riffs, folk lilted instrumentals and ambient sound effects conveying the coast, ships and machinery resonant in the artwork. Although this shows a creative musical mind, the result is then that songs end up feeling like extensive sketches rather than fully-fledged masterpieces. Hole in the Curtain has some proper rustic banjo lines somewhere but I can’t hear them over the roar of faux-punk, the breathy vocals and slight echoing on Carved House is suitably eerie but never really develops anywhere and Kingdom, though it features a gorgeous acoustic guitar interlude, is too monotonous to be worthy of its seven minute running time.
When stripped back, Brendan Rivera’s knack for a melody is brought to the light. The standouts for me were Silver Moon (a truly brooding song which highlights Brendan’s voice better than any of the others and makes use of the electric equipment in a way that actually parallels the lyrics – plus it’s a little bit like The xx which is always a bonus) and Sail Away, which whole-heartedly embraces the folk we’ve heard in passing via emphasised instrumentation and chanting backing vocals (oh and the chorus is one of the catchiest you’ll hear on the album). That being said, even these two songs suffer with common missteps found across No Ocean inIreland – too long song durations and Brendan’s vocals which seem to have been pitched lower than the backing music in many cases, giving the impression of poor diction.
It’s all very well and good trying to hybridise different genres but, in my opinion, it’s got to be successful to actually be worth the hassle. There are elements in No Ocean in Ireland that fit nicely within the nu-folk movement of recent years (the traditional Irish influences, especially the instrumental sections, being the standouts of the songs they feature in) and there’s also a glimmer of the singer/songwriter sound which suits Brendan’s voice down to a T. However, a lot of these great moments are drowned in punk-rock brooding which doesn’t mesh well with the other genres on offer. Sometimes it’s better to accept that some sounds are not going to work for you as an artist and, personally, I’d say Brendan could do with forgetting trying to recreate the punk-rock that no doubt influences him and focus on what actually works for his voice. Mumford & Sons have proven that it’s possible to rave to a folk song without angry electric guitar riffs and noisy feedback dominating the whole shebang.
This could have been a very accomplished album and to see him branch out from the near straight punk-rock of album predecessor, Body of Land, is promising but it just hasn’t quite come off. A better example of what Brendan could achieve would be Ben Howard who has managed to take singer/songwriter into folk with the respect of the indie tastemakers, not to mention commercial success. Of course he shouldn’t copy Ben Howard or Mumford & Sons because he does have his own sound there but it wouldn’t be a loss to throw overboard some unnecessary musical cargo and chisel down the edges (especially in terms of song duration). There are lovely instrumentals; there are catchy lyrical refrains but is there cohesion or definite identity? Not this time around unfortunately and that’s why it won’t be troubling Miss Marling for a spot in my memories.