Fontaines D.C- Dogrel Review

Whoever thought that post-punk was a fad relegated to the days of PiL and Joy Division clearly wasn’t paying attention. There’s been a resurgence of these kinds of raw, bare-bones, streetwise bands in recent years, one of which is relative Irish newcomers Fontaines D.C. Originally they started out as a group of college students bound together by Irish poetry and the works of the American beatniks, leading to the writing of the poetry books Vroom and Winding as their first major contributions to art and literature.

Eventually this evolved into playing music, and led to their debut album Dogrel (taken from the Irish expression doggerel, or poetry for the people) being released this April. Already they have gained immense upward traction, playing The Tonight Show in May, selling out nine shows in a row at SXSW and having their debut hit #4 and #9 in Ireland and the UK respectively. There’s another record planned for next year, but in the meantime it serves to get into the innards of this one to see who Fontaines D.C really are and what they’re about.

The most striking thing about “Big”, the album’s opening track isn’t just the pounding drums and the bass line that follows it, but the vivid lyrical imagery courtesy of vocalist Grian Chatten: “Dublin in the rain is mine/A pregnant city with a Catholic mind/Starch those sheets for the birdhouse jail/All mescalined when the past is stale/pale.” Chatten, in his shouted vocals evokes the image of a more poetic John Lydon taking the reins, while the track as a whole contains a gritty urban sensibility that’s refined and intelligent as opposed to being merely headstrong.

This bleak urban realism continues over to “Sha Sha Sha” and gives us a picture of the pregnant streets of Dublin down on the street level. A cabbie rolls down the roads of the great Irish city, at first cast in a romantic light by the narrator, then in a more realistic one while encountering brawlers whose “heads hit the streets” and “drunken pervs” staggering home. The sharp metropolitan drive in this unfolding saga escalates from sharp indie staccato on “Sha Sha Sha” into the realm of the atmospheric, then into the crashing and chaotic in “Too Real.”

Not only is the recurring use of repetition as a poetic device applied thoroughly amidst this rapid-paced sonic assault “I’m about to make a lot of money”, “Six o’clock”; but the auditory background of the verses themselves resemble slews of cars speeding by in the street to emphasize the city dynamic laid out thus far. It’s a guitar tactic that dates at least back to Montrose’s “Bad Motor Scooter” and likely from Hendrix, but Carlos O’Connell and Conor Curley manage to twist it uniquely to their own distorto-jangly ends.

The succeeding track, “Television Screens” is the sole track on the record that originated from the band’s early poems. Lyrically, it could be about anything from climate change to personal authenticity and the superficiality of internet culture. Musically, it follows the same formula of sidewalk ethereal jangle already established in previous songs, and helps to add careful, subtle contrasts between tracks while still keeping a cohesive sound intact.

“Hurricane Laughter”, in a contrasting tone rumbles angrily ashore, true to its title. Lines like “Hurricane laughter, tearing down the plaster” and “and there is no connection available” create striking imagery and manifest disturbing dichotomies within the song; with the manic tone of its musical body crashing up against a storm of laughter; perhaps to mask the anxiety and pain one feels in the face of the state of modern urban affairs.

“Roy’s Song” subsides the crashing waves in exchange for familiar clean tones, exploring themes of youthful innocence and adult disillusionment painted over the backdrop of a cold urban landscape. It’s a perfectly hypnotic tune that sets the city, Catholic mind and all as a remorseless killer of dreams and aspirations while at the same time a tireless muse for any young creatives to drag inspiration from out of the ruins. Take these lines as proof enough of that: “The breeze in the night time would kill you stone dead/It was the message I heard when the company said/“There is no warning and there is no future/I like the way they treat me but I hate the way they use her.”

The next track, “The Lotts”, takes its name from a small pub in downtown Dublin where Fontaines D.C regularly practiced and was a stomping (and shooting) ground for junkies of all types and stripes. One could practically visualize through the ringing guitars and Chatten’s descriptive, repetitive stanzas the sight of used needles on a dirty, worn sidewalk and more than a fiend or two passed out or on death’s doorstep from a fix too many.

While “The Lotts” highlights the skids and bums, “Chequeless Reckless” aims at the sellouts, charlatans, clout-chasers and shallow materialists in the upper echelons. Not a soul in this picture is safe from the sweeping critique of capitalist society and modernity writ large embarked on in this short, pointed number. As much as their relationship with Dublin is complicated, the boys nevertheless feel a sense of urgency to protect her and her essence from the creep of a hollow future; reiterating that “money is the sandpit of the soul.”

“Liberty Belle” follows suit, named after another local bar and the distinctly Irish pub violence that breaks off for any particular circumstance that might warrant it. It’s a distinctly punky tune, very much in keep with the uptick street-poet-post-punk thematics consistently maintained thus far into the album.

Two closing numbers: The first being “Boys In The Better Land”, Chatten’s account of an encounter with a Irish Republican cabby who is anything but sympathetic to the Brits. Over all-too-familiar punk chords, Chatten details the tale of the man who “spits out “Brits out”, only smokes Carrolls”, and, according to a separate interview on the record, uses the driver as something of a representation of himself. Further demonstrating the love-hate dynamic with Dublin throughout the album, he also hints that despite all the local pride, it may be best to “get yourself a good car and get out of here” as the city loses more and more of its character.

After all the experimentation with punk, post-punk, garage, jangle and everything else, the slow pub ballad “Dublin City Sky” routes everything back to the fertile Irish ground where Fontaines D.C was sprung from. As the city changes, the song insists, let the small moments be the best moments as everything surrounding begins to fade. A fitting note to close out a journey into the heart of Ireland on, however long it may live in its current form.

All in all, Fontaines D.C is a compelling new band with many a compelling, complex story to tell with all shades and sides to explore. Dogrel is a remarkably strong album to enter on, and hopefully the hype does not burn them out early on. In a musical universe with increasingly vapid, shallow pop songs all produced by the same person and utterly deracinated in terms of discernible identity to one part of the world or another, Fontaines D.C represents a refreshing new change for the coming decade; equal parts punk pastime and indie future- laden with unmistakable depth. If tomorrow’s Dublin proves to be too unbearable to inhabit in the long run, at least they will have already found a new home in the ears and hearts of many across the world if they stay this dazzling, enthralling course.