Even in a musical country as small as Ireland, getting yourself noticed can be a Herculean task. Henrietta Game would seem to be aware of this, launching their debut album with a gig on a famine ship. It’s hardly your average night down at Whelan’s and an approach that suits the band. They are both unique and strangely familiar at the same time. While their acoustic, almost classical, take on pop music stands out today there are more than a few nods (intentional or otherwise) to the predominant Irish sound of the late ’80s.
If all this makes Black Ship sound a rather earnest listen, well it is. The dual male / female lead vocals (plus choral backing) are dripping with serious emotion and musically it’s a landscape of strings, xylophones and the odd bit of percussion. Fans of indie guitar pop may want to move along. Or maybe not. There is something universal about Henrietta Game, a factor that will stand them in good stead. They know their way around a good tune meaning that, no matter what the approach, these songs will lodge themselves in your consciousness with their tumbling, twisting melodies.
What ultimately makes Black Ship succeed so well is what it doesn’t do. In an era when filling every possible moment of a song with sound seems to be the default setting, Henrietta Game leave out as much as they put in. Much of this will surely come from the influence of producer Tommy McLaughlin, who performed a similar trick on the Villagers album. It’s a comparison that doesn’t need to flatter the band, as there are moments here (‘Berlin’, ’28 Hours’) that are up there with the best that we’ve heard anywhere this year. If the record has a fault, it is that – once it has found its sound – it sticks to it. As deft and often beautiful as it is, Henrietta Game could do with a touch more grit at points, an indication that there is a darker soul beneath the surface. That may come, though, and with this massively impressive debut Henrietta Game have set themselves up for the future.