By Colleen Taylor
Ireland’s sounding pretty cool these days. Two of the island’s freshest-sounding groups have released even newer hits, albeit of very different styles. HamsandwicH, a feel-good indie ensemble, is taking their latest album, “Stories from the Surface” stateside this week, along with ‘80s-sounding Sleep Thieves, while Monster Monster, as the name might suggest, offers a darker alt-pop sound in their two newly-released singles.
HamsandwicH, like their funky bandname, is current, cool, and true to itself. Niamh Farrell, Podge McNamee, Brian Darcy, David McEnroe, and Ollie Murphy have been playing together as HamsandwicH since 2003, with Dublin as their base city. The group really broke onto the scene in 2008, the year of their first album release, “Carry the Meek.” Before then, the band had been generating some buzz around Ireland with their EP and single releases, but 2008 was a turning point. Along with their first album release, HamsandwicH won the Meteor’s Hope Award in 2008 and were named by the Sunday Times as “Ones to Watch.” Two years later in 2010, they released their second and most accomplished album, “White Fox,” to great critical acclaim. The following year, their song “Ants” became a YouTube viral hit. Shortly after, the band played their biggest show to date, filling Ireland’s Olympia Theatre for a concert in April.
The signature of HamsandwicH is the sweet, ethereal vocalization of lead singer Niamh Farrell. Her soft, almost girlish voice, particularly when highlighted by Podge McNamee’s contrasting baritone, offers the indie music scene something unique. What’s more, the band’s sound as an entity is able to morph from a folksy acoustic verse to a harder rock chorus with skilled ease. HamsandwicH’s music is malleable, which explicates their popularity.
The latest news from HamsandwichH further evinces that popularity. Their recently-released 2015 album, “Stories from the Surface,” is undoubtedly their best yet. The band says they’ve come to embrace their “quirky” tagline and it shows in the album. This is a group that has come into its own sound within the past year. The collection of songs is unafraid, moving from jubilant beats to more eccentric chords, and always meshing with their characteristic harmonies. For me, “Fandango” and “Illumination” are the stand-outs on the album. It seems these songs have been standing out in Ireland too—the band opened at the main stage at Electric Picnic this year—and now it’s New York’s turn to join in the fun. HamsandwicH is performing as part of the Irish Arts Center’s “Music from Ireland Showcase” at Rockwood Music Hall this Saturday, at 2.45, along with Fangclub, Sleep Thieves, and Le Galaxie. And the best part? It’s free. If you can’t make it, keep up to date with the band at hamsandwich.com. They’ll be releasing a new single on Friday, right before their Manhattan show.
Sleep Thieves, taking the stage at the “Music of Ireland Showcase” right before HamsandwicH, are the stuff of the ‘80s. They blend disco, electro pop, and a touch of new age influences to make their light, fresh sound. Just off the release of their album, “You Want the Night,” Sleep Thieves excited crowds at Body&Soul in Ireland this summer. They are not only impressing people in Ireland, they’re gaining fans in New York and L.A. as well, as you can hear on Saturday.
Finally, Monster Monster is a brand new duo bringing drama to the alt-pop world. Mick Stuart and Riona Sally are two singer-songwriters who joined forces in the studio after challenging each other to a sing-off in Dublin’s the Stagg’s Head. The result combines Riona’s Adele-like vocals with Mick’s reverbed chords and melodies. Monster Monster has made their debut with two hits, “You’re My Fix” and “Assassin,” the first of which is garnering great response in Ireland. England is impressed too: the Liverpool Football Club picked up a Monster Monster tune, “Christmas in Liverpool,” last Christmas, which they played at all their games during the holiday season. This alt-pop music privileges the voice, allowing the electronic, poppy sounds to compliment, rather than overpower, the lyricism of the songs. Monster Monster will debut more from their upcoming full EP release at Whelan’s in Dublin at the end of the month. Check them out at monstermonstermusic.com.
New York is getting into the fresh, trendy sounds of Ireland’s most current, experimental bands. Get in the fashion by hearing them live this Saturday at Rockwood Music Hall or following them online.
Colleen Taylor writes the Music Notes column in the Irish Echo each week.