Patrick Kelleher’s 2009 debut You Look Cold may have been a universally-acclaimed release, but it was clear from the restless, experimental nature of the album that the Dublin-based musician would be unlikely to repeat himself second time around. Last year’s ‘Contact Sports’ 7″ on Skinny Wolves gave a clear indication of where he was taking things, sleeker than what came before, it nonetheless retained an unmistakeable edge: weird, murky and spooked-sounding, the song (included here) wore its ’80s synth influences on its sleeve but sounded utterly fresh and forward-looking at the same time. The accompanying promo video, meanwhile, was one of the most perfect examples of the form in recent memory, nailing – and enhancing – the track’s haunted-underground-disco vibe.
A similar aesthetic prevails on Golden Syrup, although it’s enticingly mixed with Kelleher’s more conventional pop/crooner tendencies (signposted by his recent cover of Niamh Kavanagh’s Eurovision hit ‘In Your Eyes’). The effect is jarring but compelling; at once familiar and strange. There’s a more propulsive quality to the music here compared to his first album, due in part to the more prominent role of backing band His Cold Dead Hands (some of whom are fellow members of experimental collective Children Under Hoof). The vortex-like atmospherics, pulsing bass and out-of-place guitar solo of opening track ‘Miracle Candle’ don’t so much reel you in to the album as drag you under. On the gothic synth-pop of the title track and ‘Seen Me Blue’, vocals are manipulated or draped in reverb, periodically switching from austere baritone to falsetto to showy Walker-esque turns. The overall effect is disorientating and unsettling.
This combination of ’80s influences with skewed flourishes and eccentric touches puts you in mind of the likes of Ariel Pink or John Maus, while Joy Division and New Order have also been cited as influences. The placid, relatively straight-laced ‘Broken Up Now’ – featuring Kelleher’s vocals at their most beguiling – certainly calls to mind New Order with its warmly melodic bassline, while the stamp of their original incarnation is all over ‘Too Many Harsh Words’: nodding to the dread-inducing low end and atmospheric synths of Closer, it nonetheless has its own unique rhythmic vibe, seeming to envisage where that band might have went rather than settle for imitation.
Elsewhere, ‘I Don’t Remember’ features a spoken-word vocal over a flickering, John Carpenter-esque electronic backdrop, gradually giving way to squall and distortion, while ‘Strawberry Dog’ dips its toe in brisk, folk-tinged electronica. The wistful strains of ‘Still In School’ bring things to a close, providing a tranquil, understated conclusion to the record. Golden Syrup isn’t without flaws – it’s slightly uneven and the quality flags a couple of times – but overall it makes for a darkly danceable and frequently enthralling listen.