Review Summary: the killing of a sacred deer
The title of Fontaines D.C.'s latest album, Skinty Fia
, carries two meanings: a colloquial substitute for an Irish curse drummer Tom Coll's aunt often said, and a phrase that roughly translates to 'the damnation of the deer', an allusion to the extinct giant Irish elk which appears on the cover. The title of the album's opening track, "In ár gCroithe go deo", carries two meanings: a phrase which translates to 'in our hearts forever', and a phrase which the Church of England refused to allow on the gravestone of an Irish woman who died in England, out of fear it might be seen as a political slogan.
Grian Chatten's lyrics for Skinty Fia
often play with this sort of duality, borne out of the tension he felt as an Irish man moving to England. The majority of the band has now relocated there, and the push-and-pull between their proudly displayed Irishness and the guilt Chatten describes works as something of a thesis line for the album. It's a dichotomy clearly present in "I Love You", a magnum opus of a song which builds from a sweet declaration of love to a white-knuckled rant that explores the darker sides of said emotion. "I love you like a penny loves the pocket of a priest, and I love you 'til the grass around my gravestone is deceased", Chatten spits over an instrumental crescendo which feels like it could spill out of the speakers and engulf you entirely. It may be the band's definitive statement on their home country and the mixed feelings that come from leaving it for England: "I'm now living in a country that is responsible for a lot of the chaos in the country that I'm from, that still kind of looks down on that country. I feel guilty for having left."
It's no surprise that Skinty Fia
sounds haunted, paranoid, like an art piece that's been left to weather in the sun and accumulate some decay and damage. The opening track builds itself off the downright haunting titular refrain, a mantra gaining power over six minutes, only for "Big Shot" to completely shift gears into a punishing bass-led murk. One could question the logic behind releasing "Jackie Down the Line" as a first single, but Chatten's eminently singalongable vocal melody and sunny Britpop delivery more than make up for any disconnect between this song and the darkness surrounding it. One thing Skinty Fia
could desperately use is a mid-album breather akin to "Roy's Tune" and "Oh Such a Spring", given the sheer density and intensity of the music on display. "The Couple Across the Way" works in a similar barebones realm, spinning a heartbreaking tale over a charity-shop accordion Chatten received for Christmas, but the melody becomes repetitive over nearly four minutes without enough justification or progression. It's not the only time this album veers that way, as the plodding "Bloomsday" and "How Cold Love Is" slow things down to a crawl with little payoff, frustratingly dull songs for a band as well versed in dynamics as this one.
The band's high watermark A Hero's Death
merged a breathless pace with dreamy moments of ambience and harmony, feeling at times like a nightmare of drifting love and heartbreak told by that old punk at the back of the pub. Skinty Fia
often sacrifices that breakneck energy for a viscous, nocturnal meander, a result of the late-night jam sessions in London which birthed these songs. When it pays off, on the industrial banger of a title track or the gorgeously shoegazey "Roman Holiday", the slower pace is perfect and only makes moments like the climax of "I Love You" feel even more earthmoving. Too often, though, Skinty Fia
loses itself in the weeds of atmosphere over substance. You couldn't illustrate it any better than the baffling closer "Nabokov", a wiry art-punk soundscape of spindly guitar created by Conor Curley, over which Chatten lays an absolutely insufferable vocal take which seems to be aiming for Iggy Pop but lands somewhere around caterwauling Liam Gallagher, defusing all the dynamic tension and goodwill generated by the masterpiece immediately preceding it.
Fontaines D.C. have never sounded more at odds with themselves than here, a logical aftershock of the cultural disconnection that comes with leaving one's home for good. Mining that tension for results instead of burying it under the racketing energy of ten more post-punk bangers is a fascinating decision, one that demonstrates the band's ability to embrace the things about them that one might want to bury. Skinty Fia
won't tell you much about whether that vein of insecurity that runs below the band's surface level of confidence can fuel good art indefinitely; in its best moments, though, it may make you want to hear the band crack open that ground and let their strangest selves out completely.