Track Review

Laytha - ‘What Will I Gain’

Niamh Carney And Philana Nolan are the harmonic duo from Fermanagh that make up trad infused folk group Laytha. After catching some of their angelic set at Stendhal festival, they are a convincing prospect for the future of local music.

Their debut track ‘What Will I Gain‘ carries the same floating duets as their live performance, only with a richer and fleshed out instrumental that follows Philana’s exquisite guitar. While their voices and guitar are all they need to blow you away, this release sees them bring in a wonderous string arrangement to really open the gates of heaven. As strong a starting point as you could hope for really.

Singing about insecurities and the fear of love, they cast their out their hearts with a spectacular reverence. They’re delicate in delivery but assured in meaning, with the soft blend of their voices conveying the secretive nature of the emotions. Almost like not quite wanting to open up yet, but confiding in someone close just for you own sanity.

While the lyrics flow with questions and doubts, “What Will I Gain” is a certainty. It’s absolutely glorious.


Review by Conn Thornton

Laura Quirke & Joshua Burnside 
‘Into the Half Light’

On a collaborative EP between two of Northern Ireland’s most innovative songwriters of late, Joshua Burnside and Laura Quirke present a series of beautiful snapshots on modern life with the 18-minute gem of an EP, ‘In the Half-Light'.

Burnside and Quirke had crossed paths before the EP had even been conceived, even sharing the stage and supporting each other in their efforts in 2019. Their duet at the Duncairn  earlier this year was when the two artists started to formulate a plan to work together. What started off as a one-off recording session grew into a four track EP that explores themes of escapism and a search for the unknown, conveyed through delicate imagery that only artists such as Burnside and Quirke could pull off so effortlessly.

Burnside’s latest solo release, ‘Higher Places’, is a much more grandiose affair than the music on ‘In the Half-Light' - they both come from similar places, but the EP has a more distinct baroque sound as opposed to the album’s chamber-folk approach. Laura Quirke’s work with Lemoncello shares this baroque sound with ‘In the Half-Light', especially Lemoncello’s ‘Oil and Water’ EP. Quirke and Burnside’s solo music share so many similar qualities yet manage to retain their own unique sound. Therefore a collaboration between these two particular artists could not be a more exciting concept, and its execution on this EP is really something to be beheld.

The EP opens with the lead single ‘Taking the Wheel’, which is backed by a bare instrumental led by guitar and banjo – the guitar plays chords with some beautiful extended harmony while the banjo interjects with short licks here and there to add colour. This instrumental sounds like it could have come straight off of ‘Seven Swans’ by Sufjan Stevens and the stripped-back nature of it allows the vocal harmonies between Quirke and Burnside to really shine through. Something that makes ‘Taking the Wheel’ such a standout song is its poetic manner of storytelling. It presents itself as a short theatrical drama telling the story of two people, Sarah and David, taking a car journey frought with tension. Quirke herself underlined that the song is about not feeling in control of something and “the need to break free from it, the desire for an escape from the mundane”, which is of course the central theme of the EP. This beautiful storytelling coupled with lyricism that could rival the work of Bon Iver (“The splashing rain on the window screen / Straining the drain of nature’s spleen”) makes ‘Taking the Wheel’ a powerful and dynamic opener for ‘In the Half-Light'.

‘Far Away the Hills Are Green’ follows on and immediately captures a snapshot of the same kind of scene – rain beating down on the window of a conservatory, perhaps the same rain that Sarah and David drove through in the opening track. Burnside takes the lead in this track, in contrast to Quirke doing the same in the opener. Burnside’s vocals pivot, rise and fall to their lowest depths within the first minute, giving a distinctly moodier atmosphere, which is then layered on with the solo violin that comes in later on as well as Quirke’s harmonies. ‘Far Away the Hills Are Green’ contrasts the opener’s rich storytelling by creating hazier imagery through its intricate lyricism and texturally rich sonic palate – the last minute sees a gradual crescendo, with layers upon layers of vocals adding to this rich texture. Through the hazy imagery and broken-up lyricism (“I wish we were Californians”), the theme of escaping the mundane is apparent, even in the title of the track.

In ‘Rana the Fortunate’, Burnside and Quirke take turns to depict dreamlike imagery through the lyrics against a soft finger-picked guitar backing – this track distinctly has a traditional folk song feel to it, more so than the other tracks on the EP, which are characterised by their extended harmonic colours and postmodern lyricism. ‘Rana the Fortunate’ then builds up gradually with its instrumental, first adding a solo violin against the vocal duet, then adding more depth with drums and a harp. The vocal melody does feel distinctly inspired by traditional Irish folk songs, with its little ornamentations decorating it here and there and the way it ebbs and flows having a distinctly nostalgic feel to it, especially during the quieter section in the middle, where the vocals are really given centre stage.

The title track closes the EP, at first putting the spotlight on an ever-so-slightly out of tune piano. She has a couple of false starts in the first minute and laughs it off, giving the song an undefinable kind of charm. Most artists would try to remove blemishes like this from the finished product, but Quirke makes these false starts almost feel calculated and planned – they flow together so seamlessly that it’s hard to even register them as mistakes on the first listen. ‘In the Half-Light' features only Quirke’s voice and a piano, meaning it is far and away the most stripped back and barest song here. She wears her heart on her sleeve, using some of the most delicate lyricism on the entire EP (“Someday this love will have nowhere to go / And I will wish that I gave you more”). Rather than exploring the theme of escapism, it feels like a very loose continuation of ‘Taking the Wheel’, a reconciliation of sorts between Sarah and David, or perhaps a confession of regret that they could not love each other more than they should have. This gives the EP a sense of finality in its relatively short runtime and provides a circular narrative, of sorts.

‘In the Half-Light' is not only a brilliant display of the separate and varied talents of both Laura Quirke and Joshua Burnside, but a masterful and magnificent example of how storytelling in song can create a fully fleshed-out literary narrative with vivid settings and well-developed characters. ‘In the Half-Light' is an absolutely essential addition to the pantheon of  Irish releases.


Listen to  ‘Taking The Wheel’ here:


Listen to  ‘Far Away the Hills are Green’ here:


Reveiw by Conn Thornton

Travi the Native - ‘LDSAC’

The latest single from Travi the Native, ‘Love Doesn’t Stand a Chance’, plays out like a scene in a bittersweet romantic drama. It conjurs the hazy image of staring out the passenger seat window of a car while driving through the city at night, slowly drifting away as the streetlights rhythmically move across the glass, each one revealing a different hazy, dreamlike image. What creates this dreamy atmosphere is the delicate, slightly detuned piano throughout the track – from the moment this piano comes in it’s clear that this is going to be an epic track. Then the vocals come in, starting out rather strong but still maintaining a smoothness that then grows and builds to heighten the emotional intensity of the music and lyrics.

What makes this song really special is the way every single part builds up from its bare bones to create a sound that’s so grandiose and cinematic that it would have been right at home on a Lorde album. The way that the backing vocals come in before the chorus and meld with the synthesisers is absolutely delicious, and the gradual climb of the vocal melody to the sweeping chorus is a real highlight here – it's very reminiscent of Wolf Alice’s latest music. That’s saying nothing about the final reprise of the chorus, where the vocal harmonies are really something to behold. ‘Love Doesn’t Stand a Chance’ proves that Travi the Native has a deeply romantic, cinematic view on life and with this being a teaser of his new EP ‘God Only Calls the House Phone’, it’s clear that this is going to be one of the standout releases in the local music scene this year.



Check out Conn’s Review’s here

E.P. Review:

Spireview: 'Night Cycles'

Night Cycles, the new EP from Bangor-based artist Spireview, creates electronic soundscapes that are somehow nostalgic and futuristic, human and otherworldly. Ross Machala’s releases as Spireview on local imprint Born Sleepy showed his love for a wide-range of electronic genres and his incredible talent in creating moody and atmospheric tunes that pulled from these multiple influences within dance music and IDM. On Night Cycles’s three tracks, Machala widens his scope of genres even further into hip-hop and pop, while still maintaining his gift for vibrant and highly emotive electronic production.

The first track, ‘U no’, embodies Machala’s fantastic blending of the natural with the electronic; a live guitar melody features throughout the track along with various rushing synth sounds, and Machala’s vocals on the track are heavily reverbed and autotuned, yet he still manages to sound incredibly personal as he sings about struggles with identity and feelings of aimlessness. The track is something like a dense blanket of ethereal sounds both live and electronic, Machala achieving a kind of electronic shoegaze-sound similar to the likes of George Clanton, tapping into feelings of nostalgia through the blend of familiar and futuristic.

‘Out of Mind’ sees Machala go full on cloud rap with an intoxicating instrumental and an incredibly catchy hook, along with a typically stellar verse from Belfast hip-hop heavyweight Leo Miyagee. The final track, ‘Complications’, with its thumping house beat is a danceier tune than its predecessors, but it’s every bit as atmospheric and emotional as the other two tracks. Machala blends elements of pop music, hip-hop and progressive house in a similar vein to experimental producer Vegyn, but within his own trademark dreamy sound.

Night Cycles proves Spireview as one of the most exciting projects in Irish electronic music – if you could even label the genre. With such a wide range of sounds and genres incorporated, it’s difficult to label this EP at all, so we should just say - it’s class, listen to it here


Hi/Lo & the Tribes - 'Teens Don't Write Diaries Anymore

Míchéal McCay from art-pop outfit Foreign Owl has teamed up with Derry-based Tramp bandleader Siânna Lafferty, under the music driven collaborative umbrella ‘Hi/Lo & the Tribes’. Reservedly experimental by nature, their first release results in a song that fits the current mood of the world down to a tee.

Combining Siânna’s singer-songwriter talents with McCay’s production, the track, ‘Teens Don’t Write Diaries Anymore’ is an enchanting piece of acoustic intimacy meets chilled out lo-fi. Gradually building with a soft beat to Siânna’s stripped back guitar and vocals, into a truly calming performance from the two musical sparks.

McCay was inspired to bring Siânna’s home demo and gently uplift the melancholic performance into ab evenly balanced piece of meditative sound. The lo-fi production gives off an upbeat charm, creating a conversation with Siânna’s beautiful voice and lyrics.

Hi/Lo and The Tribes is shaping up to be a tasteful curation of collaborations, immediately providing a lovely tune fit for large amounts of replay value.