One To Watch – Conor Dardis – “He sings about railway stations, butcher shops and cups of tea”.

Conor Dardis looking out of the window.
Conor Dardis

“Immigrant Suburban Folk” is how Preston native and Dublin ex-pat Conor Dardis describes his music.

His songs are set in the working-class suburban Dublin of his formative years. This is not the Dublin of Guinness Brewery tours, shopping trips down Grafton Street or stag dos in Temple Bar. This is the Dublin of the outer estates, specifically Clondalkin, the Dublin suburb where Conor hails from and where the Dublin seen through the eyes of tourists is a million miles away from the daily realities of Clondalkin’s residents.

Conor’s songs depict everyday local characters as they negotiate life’s various pressures and challenges.

His bio says that he does not mind comparisons with Billy Bragg, Michael Head, Bruce Springsteen and their many disciples.  “Early Springsteen is really where it’s at for me” says Conor. “But I guess I’m reframing what he did to a Dublin experience”. That’s quite a bold statement for a new, unsigned artist but listening to Conor’s songs there is a distinct ‘Nebraska’-era Springsteen vibe so maybe it’s not that audacious a claim. Listen to new song ‘Accelerator’ or ‘Mickey Was a Soldier’ to see what I mean. The latter is the tale of a young man gone off the rails who ultimately pays with his life.

Like Springsteen, Conor tells stories of the everyday, making the ordinary sound extraordinary, where drunks, criminals and normal folk collide in an imagined world that is informed by the real one.

Conor’s stories and themes could be pulled from the pages of an evening newspaper. He sings about railway stations, butcher shops and endless cups of tea.

His songs lack sentimentality and instead, they capture those small neighbourhood details that typically slip through the cracks. Although ‘The Ballad of the Butcher’s Wife’ is the obvious ‘hit’ I think ‘Getting Worn Away’ is  the standout; a beautiful, heartbreaking song of a daughter’s relationship with her father and his relationship with drink. It absolutely captures the turmoil and despair of watching someone you love slowly self-destruct.

Tales of love, loss, despair and bad choices never go out of style and especially when the style is as enjoyable as this. I’m sure it won’t be long before Conor Dardis finds a label that can help him get his music out to a wider audience, but in the meantime you can check out his stuff on Soundcloud and follow him on Twitter.

“What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World” – The Decemberists (Album Review)

We know you threw your arms around us in the hopes we wouldn’t change but we had to change some.

Released: 20.01.15
My Train Tracks Rating: 9/10
It’s been almost 4 years to the day since The Decemberists‘ last outing with “The King is Dead” (2011). That album marked the point at which Colin Meloy‘s band set a new course away from the progressive indie folk stylings of their previous offerings towards a new land where rock and pop stylings and more obvious hooks and melodies and arrangements are painted throughout the band’s songs. That’s not to say, that this doesn’t sound like a Decemberists album because it does and long time fans will still hear and feel much to love. There is, however, a larger step towards the indie pop and rock territory on this than any previous Decemberists album. That’s not a bad thing and whilst “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World” may not have the same thematic consistency of albums like “The Hazards of Love” (2009) or “The Crane’s Wife” (2006) it is a fine album with some brilliant touches. The opening track “The Singer Addresses His Audience” welcomes the listener in “We know, we know we belong to ya” but goes on to apologise that “we know you built your lives around us. But we had to change some”. It’s
a nice opener as it feels like the band is talking directly to the listener which makes you prick up your ears and think, OK, go on then. “Cavalry Captain” is more like the old Decemberists although with a much smoother cafe latte production. “Philomela” is where the pop sensibility really kicks in. Sounding like it could have come out of Phil Spector’s studio, full of Wall of Sound girl group oo’s and ah’s, it works really well. As usual, Meloy’s writing is poetic and thoughtful. He fits a lot of narrative into so few words such as on “Lake Song” – “Down by the lake we were overturning pebbles and upending all the animals alight and I took a drag from your cigarette and pinched it ‘tween my finger and thumbs till it had died” – his words working with the music to create a vivid world. “The Wrong Year” sounds like it could have featured on an REM album, lovely jangly guitars from Chris Funk throughout, a bit Johnny Marr in parts. “Carolina Low” is just Meloy and a guitar (with some sweet background vocals) leaning towards Southern Soul and managing to create an epic sound. “Anti-Summersong” is tongue in cheek and includes some call and response parts which don’t quite fit with the song but it is still fun. “Mistral” is another standout track. Great tune, lovely melodies, nice choral background vocals and interesting instrumentation including a honky tonk piano with very few lyrics describing a holiday abroad and reflection on life – “Won’t the mistral blow it all away?”. The album ends ironically with “Beginning Song” is a call to action although it’s not entirely clear what action is being called for. Maybe Meloy is asking the listener to do something, anything, just get out of your seat and grab the world – “Document the world inside your skin, the tenor of your shins, the timbre of your limbs”. It’s a hopeful song and sounds the start a confident statement about the next phase of the Decemberists musical journey. “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World” is not a concept album but is an album packed full of great songs and tight lyrics and is my first contender for a year end ‘best of 2015 slot’. The band are touring the UK in February and March 2015 and are definitely ones to see.

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