‘On Through the Veil Anew’
Mark Loughrey’s breath-taking EP On Through The Veil Anew is one of the finest releases by an Irish artist to have come out in the last year, a meditation on memory and place that explores questions both deeply personal and existential. The singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist finds a perfect balance between those things large and small in his songwriting, and in the earthy, yet incredibly ethereal soundscapes that make this EP such an immersive experience.
Born in Strabane but now based in Berlin, this is Loughrey’s first release since his 2017 debut albumTreppenwitz, and it must be assumed that in these three years he has honed his talents in all aspects. The alt-folk artist’s ambitious arrangements on the EP are handled with some truly brilliant production (courtesy of Loughrey himself); its diverse instrumentation feels as though it’s alive, moving up and down with Loughrey’s voice. The songwriting and the sound of On Through The Veil Anew shows clear influence from the rich tradition of Irish folk music, but it combines these traditional elements with a more progressive and experimental approach, the lyrics oftentimes surreal and stream-of-consciousness, and ambient sounds weaving amongst the banjo and mandolin. Think Paul Brady meets Sufjan Stevens. What’s perhaps even more impressive is that Loughrey performed most of the instrumentation himself, the majority of which was recorded in the first lockdown period. He was helped by some other talented instrumentalists and vocalists across the EP however, and the result is a full and rich sound that feels expansive without surrendering any intimacy.
The first track, ‘Aufmerksamkeit’, sets the tone for the EP perfectly. The instrumental track features field recordings that Loughrey stated were taken from a street market in Berlin. The busy voices sound both near and distant, and along with the gentle guitar playing, they evoke a sense of memory and place, ideas that become fleshed out in the lyrics of the preceding tracks. ‘Nothing on a Truth’ tells the story of a chance encounter with a stranger named Gendry, a man who’s troubled life becomes associated with a place ‘half a world away’. Loughrey wonders what has become of that life, has it moved on from that lie that stung like ‘a sharpened serpent’s tooth’, and has it moved on from the place where the memory took place. The song questions what becomes of these people we meet who take up such brief glimpses of our memory, but whom we always find ourselves returning to in our minds. The third track on the EP, ‘The Snake With a Tale for a Mouth’ shows Loughrey’s lyrics at their most surreal, and the blend between Irish folk sounds and ambient music are excellent here, the track featuring whirling synths that amplify the many questions that keep the singer-songwriter from sleeping at night.
While ‘Two Sides O’ the Same Ha’penny’ is the most upbeat track on the EP in terms of the music, the lyrics delve into heart-breaking tragedy and the effects that someone passing on to the next world has on that world that they have left behind. ‘Pink Elephants’ is a hauntingly beautiful closer to the EP, Loughrey’s guitar playing is sombre and the incredible strings on the track build these eerie climaxes that sound as large as the questions raised on the track. Loughrey’s lyrics feel all too fitting for the bizarre existential crisis-inducing year of 2020; the song delves into the different realities created by isolation, of the empty outside world and the online world where we all clung to for some semblance of connection, ‘Why do others come alive at night? / Only see the world by the laptop light?’
The EP is a fantastic collection of songs, each one as strong as the next and for different reasons, but it also feels like such a cohesive project. Loughrey’s talents as both singer-songwriter and arranger are on full display here - On Through The Veil Anew crafts another world that we will no doubt be visiting again and again.