It’s twinned with Seattle. It has given us cryptosporidium gushing from the water taps of the West. It produced the Saw Doctors – the most apposite band for a midday hangover at an open air festival you’re likely to stumble across. It’s also the city this hack calls home and now Galway gives you Dar Fahy and Mike Liffey, A.K.A., Mail Order Messiahs.
Irish music is in a healthy place at the moment. The terrifying fad of the soggy singer-songwriter of years gone by – where David Gray was hailed as experimental and Paddy Casey was heralded as our answer to Bob Dylan – is way behind us and a technological revolution is upon us that has brought simplicity, or at least democratisation, to music-making. Artists can coop themselves up for weeks on end with Ableton on their laptops and only their imaginations as a restriction.
There’s not a lot of cash to be made for most of these artists and so music has become the focal point – in fact, the only point.
Having released an EP, Par Avion, at the end of 2008, this is Mail Order Messiah’s first full length, achieved by posting bits and pieces of tracks back and forth across the country, cobbling together tunes like musical chemists and challenging each other to better the sounds from the most recently-received package. This somewhat unorthodox method led to them creating this incredibly strange, unique album.
Plain kicks off with the tale of -Buddy’ and the threat of distant synths hovering around Dar’s deep vocal. Third track, -Caffeine Dreams’, owes something of a debt to early Depeche Mode without becoming a pastiche. -Pugilist at Rest’ could be Tricky as a lounge act while -le Maitresse’ comes across as a straight-up acoustic track with a breathy female vocal that might have you thinking of a certain troupe of prodigious Londoners dealing in minimalist gloom who topped many a top ten poll at the end of 2009.
The synthesiser stabs are, more often than not, of the chunky variety but as the album progresses, guitars become a little more prominent (Mike is apparently a dab hand with an axe) and things begin to head off in even more unexpected directions, -Stalin’s Friend Dies’ being a perfect example with the warm female vocals being interrupted periodically by a vocal of robotic urgency.
In a way, the eclecticism and swathes of electronic sound of Plain give the album a teasing aspect; at a few points it seems like it could just burst into the kind of Grebo-tinged, noisy flourishes that Mike Patton would lap up. And yet most of it defies categorisation – a remarkable thing in this era of aping. The sound is never easily pinned down as shades of motorik, Grandaddy, the Super Furries and the afore-mentioned -Mode are revealed darting around the undergrowth of the various blips, twiddles and twangs.
This is an album that has been mulled over at length and the unusual method in which it was conceived and recorded has given it the air of something constructed painstakingly, with care and attention to even the tiniest detail, but without the sacrifice of melody or cohesion.
If these are the messiahs, then they really have nailed it with Plain.