Dublin quintet Fontaines D.C. became one of the most notable rock acts of the 2010s with barely any time left on the clock. Their 2019 debut, Dogrel, was the equivalent of shooting a three-pointer from downtown with seconds to spare – and that’s generously the last time you’ll see the band’s artful post-punk paralleled with basketball. Theirs, after all, was not a body of work meant for stadiums and the grander spectrum of outer-reaching rock the same way that fellow countrymen U2 perfected some decades prior. Instead, the band exist in a seedier underbelly – troubled by The Troubles, mule-kicking out of a one-horse town and not changing their approach to fit the mould of any great expectations.
Such defiance was exemplified by their second studio album, A Hero’s Death, which followed just over a year after the release of Dogrel. Seemingly fully vaccinated against Second Album Syndrome, the band expanded their horizons and continued to experiment with their approach – incorporating krautrock, big-beat and traditional folk balladry in the process. Here, we will give a brief but vital overview of a band that has a similar trajectory themselves. The realest band out of Dublin City – too real, even.
1. ‘Too Real’, Dogrel (2019)
Speaking of, it seems prudent to start on one of the band’s highest-octane numbers. Like ‘We Are the Champions’ and ‘1979’ before it, ‘Too Real’ has been subjected to the rollercoaster meme treatment – and the whole thing just clicks with that context in mind. Using this song as an introductory point to the band is baptism by fire – every member is pushed beyond its limits to visceral extremes. Drummer Tom Coll pounds and rackets across Grian Chatten’s heavily- accented diatribe, undercut and subsequently overtaken by knife-edge guitars. It’s here, it’s now and it’s incredibly, incredibly real. Get on board.
2. ‘Big’, Dogrel (2019)
‘Big’ is a song that is simultaneously antithetical and entirely reflective of its title. It’s a very short song – in fact, at a minute 45, it’s the shortest song Fontaines have released to date. Do not mistake this brevity, however, for any lack of density. This song goes beyond packing a proverbial punch – it’s an entire barroom brawl, with Chatten asserting dominance over his beloved city. Churning bass, clattering drums and rumbling guitar work ensure ‘Big’ makes a lasting impression. It’s a song of outliving your hometown; in the same breath, it’s about burning it to the ground.
3. ‘Televised Mind’, A Hero’s Death (2020)
When Fontaines were first getting about, the most common term bandied about for the band was “post-punk.” It made perfect sense circa Dogrel – after all, it was all we had to go off. What if, however, Dogrel was a punk record – and A Hero’s Death was the real post-punk record? The churning bass, the Madchester big-beat drums and the surf-nightmare baritone guitar on ‘Televised Mind’ is like night and day when paired next to the band’s earlier, more conventional singles – great as they were. It’s evolution, baby; primordial, powerful, progressive tension. Whatever it is, it’s certainly post-something.
4. ‘A Hero’s Death’, A Hero’s Death (2020)
You know how when ‘Lust For Life’ starts with that smash of drums, and you know shit’s about to kick-off? That exact feeling hits when the title track of A Hero’s Death begins. As both the first taste of the album and the first song the band released post-Dogrel, it was imperative that the Dubliners got everything right. As luck would have it, Fontaines’ momentum kept the ball in play – and, furthermore, progressed on their established sound through adaption and evolution It’s darker, meaner and tougher, but still resolving to maintain its fighting spirit established by its predecessor.
5. ‘Boys in the Better Land’, Dogrel (2019)
It’s fitting the song about escaping the quiet-life, small-town every day ostensibly served as Fontaines D.C.’s ticket to the world. This is what got them on Late Night; this is what got them the slot at Glastonbury. If you’ve heard of this band, it likely had something to do with the greater successes at large of this very song. Really, can you blame it? Listen to that slicing guitar! Listen to that procession of drums! Listen to that tambourine! It’s one of the most vital rock songs to ever come from Ireland. Where’s the better land, anyway? Simple: Anywhere but here.
6. ‘I Was Not Born’, A Hero’s Death (2020)
“Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests/I’ll dig with it.” The late Seamus Heaney, one of Ireland’s greatest poets, closed his poem ‘Digging’ by defiantly claiming his work as equal to that of the labourer. It’s an assertion of self and of place, which Chatten (a former poet himself) reflects on ‘I Was Not Born’. The Hero’s Death deep-cut refuses the enticing world of “another man’s bidding” atop of insistent major chords and a rummaging rhythm section. Chatten and co. continue to dig on their own accord, and this deviation from the norm carries Heaney’s legacy with it.
7. ‘Dublin City Sky’, Dogrel (2019)
As clear as the titular horizon overseeing them, this is Fontaines’ tribute to The Pogues. Bands such as themselves quite literally wouldn’t exist without the overarching legacy of Shane Macgowan’s folk-punk vehicle – and the closing number of Dogrel is a debt paid in full to the band, plus interest. From Chatten’s remarkable turns of phrases (“In the foggy dew/I saw her throwing shapes around”) to the band’s masterfully-understated arrangement, this may stand as the band’s most singularly underrated moment. For a group that thrives on boisterous rock, it’s nothing short of stunning seeing them take such an approach here.
8. ‘I Don’t Belong’, A Hero’s Death (2020)
“Dublin in the rain is mine,” prophesied Grian Chatten at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed debut album. What a difference a year makes: “I don’t want to belong to anyone,” he prophesies at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed second album. He can see clearly now, the rain has gone. A new man, fronting a new band. Methodical, refined, steely in focus. Slow to build and bright to burn. Once standing on the shoulders of giants, now giants themselves. Together, they roam this barren, empty land. ‘I Don’t Belong’ is a new beginning and a turning tide. Strangely resplendent.
9. ‘Sunny’, A Hero’s Death (2020)
To round out a trilogy of Fontaines’ quieter moments, ‘Sunny’ is one of the most textured and mesmerising in their catalogue. Consider it a lost Beach Boys classic in the spirit of ‘Don’t Worry Baby,’ driven through the Irish countryside and subsequently warping the seven-inch vinyl in the heat. It’s the sound of an endless summer being pulled into a close with a fade to black, reverberating across a sea of da-da-das and torn pages of Oscar Wilde books. Chatten is lost in a haze of lost moments and forgotten memories, grasping for life just out of reach. Remarkable.
10. ‘Hurricane Laughter’, Dogrel (2019)
This needs to be sent out the only way it deserves to: In a wash of belligerent Dublin City noise. The entirety of ‘Hurricane Laughter’ just snarls – whether it’s the guttural rumble of Connor Deegan III’s bass, the siren wail of Conor Curley’s guitar or Chatten’s composed, direct imagery offered from amidst the fray. The drums dropping away at the end, leaving the song’s refrain of “And there is no connection available” ringing out as a chant, recalls Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Know Your Enemy’. Consider it Fontaines’ own fuck-you. They certainly won’t do what you tell them. Ever.
Has all this inspired you to seek out even more Fontaines D.C. content? We’ve got you covered. Head here to watch the Dubliners play a special one-off performance at their old stomping ground, The Lexington pub in North London, as part of the epic new content series, Jim Beam’s ‘WelcomeSessions’.
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