Review Summary: One foot in the past, one in the present.
The Gloaming have carved themselves an interesting niche in the world of both folk and post-rock. Technically a supergroup of traditional Irish musicians, they came together to bring their traditional sounds into the 21st century. There is no questioning that the band is steeped in the history and tradition of Irish music. The band itself is a fairly conventional quintet of two fiddle players, a guitarist, a piano player, and a sean-nós vocalist. The lyrics and themes of songs are taken from traditional Irish poems and songs. All of these classic components are clearly dealt with with care and respect, and are cautiously, tenderly, wrenched into the 21st century.
Opening track “The Weight of Things” is potentially the most conventional track that The Gloaming have composed across their career, yet is also a clear indication of the mission statement of the band. Vocalist Iarla Ó Lionáird sings in the traditional sean-nós style, which is typically unaccompanied and melodically complex. With The Gloaming, it is constantly accompanied, but the complex melodies remain. The first half of this track is filled with sean-nós style vocals, with a driving fiddle and piano line beneath that would reflect what one would likely stereotype as an Irish-sounding tune. However, about halfway through the track, the fiddle line slows and almost completely drops, with an atmosphere that is reflective of Sigur Ros’ ( )
taking its place. This atmosphere then flits in and out for the rest of the song, with the listener never knowing when the roots of the band will peel away to reveal the seemingly familiar, yet completely unique, atmosphere created by the band.
This description can be applied to the rest of the album as well. “The Lobster” has a complicated and catchy fiddle line throughout that wouldn’t sound out of place at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration, but it is accentuated by a brooding piano line that slowly grows in noise as the song continues. “Sheehan’s Jig” follows the same pattern, easily being the most upbeat song on the album with a fiddle melody that makes you want to get up and dance, but that continues on for an almost seven and a half minute runtime. This makes another fiddle heavy song, “The Old Road to Garry”, seem almost like a transition song with a runtime of only three and a half minutes. The most successful of these modern jigs is the ten-minute long “Doctor O’Neill”, which has a number of orchestral suites where the instruments interchange with each other and the mood constantly shifts.
Every member of the quintet gets their moments to shine. A nostalgic piano line (played by acclaimed producer Doveman, the pianist for the group) permeates through “The Pink House”. There is rarely a moment where the guitar isn’t present driving along the rhythm section of the band, and whenever Lionáird makes an appearance, that likely means that a standout track is the making.
The lyrics to each song are all sung in the traditional Irish language - Not a word of English is to be found across the album's seventy minutes. Seeing as how only approximately 80,000 people across the world speaking, understanding the lyrics isn’t important to the appreciation of the album (although I’m sure it would heighten the enjoyment, which is something I unfortunately cannot comment on). To draw another comparison to Sigur Ros, the vocal styling is essentially The Gloamings equally beautiful answer to Hopelandic. The poems used in the opening and closing tracks are about death, and this is made clear with the intonation and emotion Lionáird imbues into every word he sings, even if not a single word is understood. If the album suffers from anything, it’s that it could use more
of Lionáird’s vocals. Quite a few songs are purely instrumental, and with the lengthy runtime, they can meld together on repeat listens.
The two standout tracks on the album are “Áthas”, which translates to joy, and “Reo”, a poem about the fleeting nature of life. In both songs, Lionáird’s voice is balanced perfectly by the other members of the band. In “Áthas”, he is accompanied by a simple guitar line and the fiddles constantly bubble underneath the surface, with the piano taking almost as much a front seat as the vocals. Everything about the song sounds reflective, as if it could be the soundtrack of a man reliving the joys of his life. It is introspectively beautiful, and, extrinsically, its beauty draws the full focus of the listener. “Reo” takes the opposite approach that much of the album does. It starts off in a dreamworld; floating, quiet, and dark. As the volume grows, the Irish tradition grows with it. What started as a dream becomes a beautiful jig, no longer just a mere reflection, but a full embrace of the past into the present.