Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
Long standing member of the legendary The Undertones and seminal rockers That Petrol Emotion, guitarist Damian O’Neill has been creating music his whole life but, say it softly, ‘An Crann’ may well be his most impressive and intriguing piece of work yet.
Eschewing the fiery original punk pop of the Derry superstars and alternative rock of TPE, the album heads into different territories, embracing other soundscapes to great effect.
Mainly instrumental, what vocals there are being sparse and subtle, we are invited to go on a journey that dips into a more personal palette of colours, the whole having a truly organic feel. This isn’t to say it’s all
raw edges, far from it as the production is bright yet warm and gives it an evocative feel, the whole like sitting down with a friend swapping stories over a few pints.
Adding to the experience, the cover artwork has a wonderfully retro feel about it, harking back to the albums of our parents that we used to thumb through as kids. As an extra treat for those who buy the vinyl, it comes in a gorgeous pale blue colour that is as aesthetically pleasing as the cover and the music inside.
‘Más o Menos’ opens the album, its uber cool and laid back 60’s psychedelic rock vibe a wash of rainbow colours and little fireworks for the synapses. From this, more electric and plugged-in track, the mood shifts to the more pastoral in the form of ‘Malin Head Imminent’, immensely atmospheric and full of delicate instrumentation, you can almost hear the waves and taste the sea salt on your tongue.
Similarly, the gentle ‘Tune for the Derry Ones’ and the shimmering ‘A Quare Visitation (Belfast ‘65)’ are like being wrapped in gossamer wonder, places of peace in an uncertain world.
‘An Crann’ has a relaxed feel to it that seeps out of every pore of its being, the majority of it being recorded in O’Neill’s home and away from the time restraints from a studio. This has certainly reaped its artistic benefits, the creativity of the material being allowed to breath without those external stresses, the whole inspired and unhurried.
Light years away from the youthful urgency of ‘Teenage Kicks’, ‘My Perfect Cousin’ and ‘Jimmy Jimmy’, the album certainly has its own spark and whilst in The Undertones O’Neill regularly displays this fire, here we see some totally different facets that burn just as brightly.
From the otherworldly ‘Lament for Loughinisland’, the hazy Summer cool of ‘La Tengo’ and the jazzy folk urgency of ‘We Want the Wesleys’, O’Neill stretches his wings and takes us on journeys that have shaped who he is. Concluding with ‘Round and Round’, a woozy trip through the senses that brings a comforting warmth as dawn breaks, the listener can just breathe a contented sigh and bathe in the afterglow. A wonderfully cinematic experience and one that will stay with you long after the last note fades.
Utterly glorious. 5/5
From the album ‘an crann’ available November 25, 2022. http://ffm.to/damianoneill