Review Summary: Clann Zú blurs the line between celtic/folk, indie rock and elecrtonica almost flawlessly to create a unique, organic listening experience.
I've started this review maybe 5 times over, and while I'll keep this intro, chances are that number has increased several times before the review's conclusion. The reason I'm having trouble describing this album is because it's almost entirely indescribable. Rua is --in the truest sense of the word-- unique. You get unique for a lot of things these days, all of which I want you to forget about. Unique isn't something that should be tossed around, and rest assured this is not the case. The album defies pre-conceptions because there is literally nothing else like this. When I first got this album nearly three years ago, I was at a loss for words. Clann Zú, now defunct, somehow managed to mix Irish folk music with electronica and indie-rock. Clann Zú somehow managed to take three things I had absolutely no interest in three years ago and keep my interest. They managed to release one of the most sincere albums of the year. They managed to stay true to their roots while still experimenting. They also managed to go [almost] completely unnoticed.
I could spend time comparing Declan de Barra's vocal delivery to Jeff Buckley
, but even before I finish that statement he's switched to a forceful, angry shout, something which lasts only moments before he begins to sound like a slightly less deranged Thom Yorke
. I'm not going to go into anymore detail with comparisons because they still do nothing for anyone. Declan's voice is both serene and aggressive, versatility most exemplified in the album's opener Words for Snow
. Words for Snow begins with ambient electronics before Declan enters, singing typically lower than normal (his voice is characteristically in the higher falsetto range). The song, carried along by electric guitar and violin, slowly picks up pace, and Declan's voice follows suit. Halfway through the track, a drumroll is played and you as a listener are instantly made aware of a change. The song picks up and suddenly starts to sound quite serious; the violin becomes more aggressive and, out of nowhere, Declan re-enters, thick Irish accent in tact. And the last touch is always the hardest and the last touch is always the same and the last look is the one that will kill ya and the last touch is the one that will drive you insane
speaks Declan. Words for thought, but before you're given the chance to digest it, Declan re-enters to once again speak, though slightly more aggressive; the pace is ever-increasing, the tension building until finally, he screams "for Christ's sake get me out of here! God of all sick things get me the *** out of here! Release me!".
The track is exemplary of the groups more Celtic-rooted side, and features some of the most well-written lyrics on the album; telling a tale of a religious man who seems to have run out of options.
Tracks like Words for Snow are what made me fall in love with this group, and more importantly, Declan's voice. While he is an extremely versatile and capable singer, his voice is not without the occasional flaw, adding a crucial human element to their sound. His delivery, weighed by an Irish accent, is just as often harsh as it is beautiful. The attraction to this album, I believe, is entirely due to the fact that Declan is not just a singer, he's a real person. The beauty of Rua lays deeper than the vocals, though. Five Thousand More
, perhaps my favourite track on the album, is a fifty-fifty split between folk and trip-hop. Featuring the hardest beat on the album, Five Thousand More mixes heavy percussion with a Thom Yorke-like vocal delivery, all the while being carried by violin and electric guitar (as well as the Bodhran, a traditional Irish percussive instrument). The track slides its way through the gritty to the pretty, all without focusing entirely on one sound. Hope This Day
, a track that switches between English and Gaelic at the drop of a hat, is perhaps the most Indie sounding track on the album. While it features a consistent, albeit more organic sounding drum-beat, the track is more guitar oriented than violin, something rare on this album.
For delivering a sound never focused on one element, but rather balanced equally between celtic, folk rock, elecrtonica and indie, Clann Zú's Rua deserves consideration as being one of the most unique releases of the past few years. By utilizing each members skill, poetically grasping lyrics (in both English and Gaelic), Clann Zú manage to add a sincere, organic element to an album where electronics and sound manipulation play a hefty role. While at times it may drag, for the most Rua goes without fault; a truly emotional, spiritual, cultural cacophony of sounds, and while the band abandoned much of this on their second and final release, it's safe to say this is an album that will remain special to me for a while to come.
Clann Zú was
· Benjamin Andrews - Electric Guitar
· Russell Fawcus - Electric Violin, Keyboards
· Declan de Barra - Vocals, Bodhrán
· Liam Andrews - Bass
· Lach Wooden - Sound Manipulation