Those Geese Were Stupefied takes the bait with his 15.
1. Fight Like Apes (Ticket list #4)
"Ireland has, quite simply, never seen a band like Fight Like Apes." That about sums it up as to why this band is my no. 1, and has been for the last year and a half that I've been listening to them (starting here). Read the rest of the description in the Ticket article or here.
Their meteoric rise in that period is based essentially on two EPs (repackaged and re-recorded into a debut album) of great songs, plus a few more, and consistently fantastic live shows. Fight Like Apes aren't consciously a punk band, not even I suppose when they are channelling Mclusky, but to me their music is 90% there. The ability to be quite popularly appealing while retaining a definite hard edge has been crucial to their success. For all the people who find the band irritating or bemusing, there isn't really a corresponding faction which decry them as bland or derivative. Which can only be a good thing for Irish music.
2. Ham Sandwich (Ticket list - #!?)
While not as distinctive musically, the quality of this band's rock/pop output probably more than matches that of Fight Like Apes. Guitar-heavy, melancholy and perfectly pitched to male and female vocals, the debut album Carry the Meek is tragically underrated and under-recognised in Ireland. All-killer and no-filler, as a simple collection of songs it definitely puts them ahead of Fight Like Apes (as I did for my best of 2008 list, where it was only second to the Welsh/Australian Shooting at Unarmed Men record). Their live shows are fantastic as well, with a refreshing element of kitsch.
3. So Cow (Ticket list #99)
Lo-fi, straightforward and endearing punk-pop with the emphasis on the 'pop' in a complex, indie-rock deconstruction sort of thing. It's really difficult to describe the sound of So Cow in anything approaching one sentence, so I'll abandon that contradictory explanation for a simple statement that Brian Kelly is a pop genius. This is a rating based personally on only one album and one live show, but I can assure you there is a lot of depth to So Cow. Karl has a live review over on Those Geese Were Stupefied which declares him number one in Ireland (despite the name of the blog coming from a Fight Like Apes song).
4. Cathy Davey (Ticket list #3)
There a further acts, other than Fight Like Apes, in the Ticket top five that I do like a good deal, and definitely deserve their position, but that I wouldn't personally count amongst my top artists - Jape, Lisa Hannigan and David Holmes being of course three of them. Cathy Davey's album Tales of Silversleeve, however, was something I got into myself, even if it wasn't as rock-ish as the other Irish artists that appeal to my particular tastes. The first four songs on the album - 'Sing for Your Supper', 'Reuben', 'The Collector' and 'Moving' - are just stunningly good, while the quality of the rest, from 'Mr. Kill' which reminds me bizarrely of the sound of Green Day's Warning album, stand up equally if not as immediately noticeable. The fact that it is from 2007 (though I must have bought it the following year) but stills stands out as an obvious contender testifies to the strength of the album.
5. Boxes (Ticket list -)
A relatively recent discovery for me, this is one Irish band that definitely isn't 'indie' in the usual sense. I can't quite decide which is better, the 2008 album Animal or the 2006 (Albini-recorded) Bad Blood, but either way this two-piece's brand of post-hardcore/math-rock has made a great impression on me. They may not seem as original (at least, if you listen to a wide variety of 90s US post-punk) as some of the newer bands on this list, but they are distinctive, and accomplished, enough in themselves to be worth praising highly. Meanwhile, very few people in Ireland seem to have noticed them.
Constructed from the members of another well-known Irish rock band Future Kings of Spain, A Lazarus Soul is a more post-punk style (especially Joy Division) band based around the vocals of Brian Brannigan. The lyrical content - melancholy, reflective, and ambiguous - is about life in the parts of Dublin then as now left behind by the economic boom, but more generally recalls the impact of one of Ireland's greatest bands of the 1990s, Whipping Boy. Most of all, it's a portrait of an environment, "a hand brake wheelspin lullaby".
These two bands are the cream of the current Irish underground. Bats would be my personal favourite, a sort of math-rock/dance-punk/metal combo which increasingly rip shit up every time I see them play. The first time was in 2007, supporting the Locust, when songs like 'Atom and Eve' reminded me of a more muscular Q and not U, while their more recent stuff destined for the group's first album has matured a good deal from there.
Adebisi Shank aren't really a favourite of mine at all, in that I'm not personally into their super-mathy, metallic instrumental rock, but I respect what they are doing and what they are trying to do. It's not something that appeals to most indie fans, hence the perception that they are often unfairly overlooked by Irish music critics. On the positive side, though, it appeals to a wider audience of metal and punk fans both outside and inside Ireland (the Sputnikmusic reviews of both Bats and Adebisi Shank are here and here). Given that Adebisi Shank's debut album was produced by J. Robbins, and that Bats are recording with Kurt Ballou of Converge, its clear that the real Irish alternative scene has the potential to travel some distance.
Chequerboard's Penny Black was one of my favourite albums of last year, a beautiful, atmospheric combination of classical guitar and electronic beats. A musician and graphic artist, Chequerboard's John Lambert created something superbly nostalgic and evocative with the wonderfully packaged album, or as I (loosely) described it, "Victoriana put to dubstep". The electronica also has a harder side, as evinced on the previous album Gothica and in his recently resurfaced musical alter-ego, Boldypants.
Boldypants - 'Emotional Wreckingball'
10. Hooray for Humans (Ticket list -)
'Already Sleeping' b/w 'Hidden Hands'
This Cork-based electro-rock group with some tangential emo influences were a revelation when I first them on their heard their 2007 album, Safekeeping; that there was an Irish band who liked a lot of the same US bands I did but also made that into far-above-average indie music. The only release after that album so far has been the 7" above, which is brilliantly presented (pink sleeve, blue vinyl). In musical terms the band are fun, energetic and play great hook-laden pop songs, but at the same time you can find something much more expressive and 'post-hardcore' influenced in there. Plus, guitarist and main man of Hooray for Humans, Alan Healy, has a dead-on screamo mixtape posted on his blog.
(more to come)