Dublin vocalist Carol Keogh has been in and around the country’s music scene for almost two decades and while her various ventures and collaborations, criminally, either never gained the traction they deserved (Plague Monkeys) or burned out before their time (The Tycho Brahe, Autamata) she has been a consistent and reliable reflection of Ireland’s musical sensibility. While she released her debut album under her own banner in 2014, The Natural History Museum sees her bound ever-forward, pairing her with Dublin electronica virtuoso Sunken Foal (aka Dunk Murphy).
Keogh’s debut album was of a somewhat traditional ilk; it felt like an album that had been lying dormant in the singer for a number of years, needing to be exorcised. In contrast to this – and testament to both artists musical prowess -– Attenborough is a wholly contemporary affair: both parties seem to revel in their diversity, creating something that brims with creativity and never takes a breath long enough to become boring.
The contrast of the organic and the technological sums up the basis for the album as a whole. Several of the tracks – ‘Mom’, ‘Daga Gadol’ and ‘Surfing the Severn Born’ – open with softly picked acoustic strings only to slowly commute to a more digital landscape to which Keogh’s vocals are our guide. There is atmosphere in spades here with even the brief interludes – ‘The Likelihood of a Violent Death’ and ‘Stoat Safari’ – defining some notion of their sound; soft, wandering synths and cascading vocals that serve as punctuation marks on their trail through this digital landscape.
While Keogh has a long history of collaboration, Sunken Foal is a newer addition to the country’s music scene – though the level of his output would suggest otherwise. Having worked with artists like Jape and Si Schroeder in the past, he has proven to be an important talent with a knack for creating a unique digital imprint that never drowns out the sound of his cohorts. Here his mastery seems to have reached critical mass, the duo having a fixed notion of what they are aiming for and rarely missing the mark.
For Keogh this album should be a wake-up slap to the listening public and project her star to where it should be; in every playlist, on every speaker. For Murphy it solidifies his place as one of the country’s most talented and inventive electronica producers. In tandem they have given us the first great Irish album of 2016.