Rocstrong

Unapologetically contemporary

Willow Sea and Tracy Friel are Grounds for Invasion.

By Colleen Taylor

I’m feeling very cool this week. Walking about the streets with my headphones in, there’s a hip sound guiding the pep in my steps. It’s all thanks to two new additions to my playlist: “Let Go” by Galway band Grounds for Invasion and “Hold Ya” by Dublin-based Rocstrong. Although I wouldn’t group these two tracks in the same genre setting, they deserve mention together for their parallel ultra-modernism. “Let Go” is electro-pop/rock and slightly techno while “Hold Ya” is funky and soulful. What connects them is this audible demonstration of how unapologetically contemporary the Irish music scene has become. These Galway and Dublin representatives illustrate current Irish arts scene's freshness and its curiosity. These songs don’t rely on the crutch of past influences: they are very much the fashionable sounds of Ireland now.

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Grounds for Invasion is a musical partnership out of Galway forged between Willow Sea (or Will O’Connor) and Tracy Friel. The two met at college, and Sea, moved by Friel’s rendition of a Bo Diddley song, conceived of an electro collaborative project, which planted the seeds for “Grounds for Invasion.” The duo released their debut album, “Dying Stars,” in February of this year to considerable acclaim among some amateur critics in Ireland. They drummed up some more fans at the Body & Soul Festival, where they’re also playing this summer in 2015. The Irish Times named Grounds for Invasion one of the bands to watch in 2015, and their debut “Dying Stars”--still a very recent release--continues to garner interest in Ireland.

Electro-pop music oftentimes turns me off. I find it too “out there,” sometimes too reliant on the sound board than the voice and instruments. But when I stumbled upon “Let Go” off the new album “Dying Stars,” I had the opposite response. This song is about the voice. The lyrics and echo-y vocals intersect with the cool, mellow electronic beats in seamless, natural correlation. The song is hypnotic: it pulls you in and induces a bobbing head or tapping foot in immediate response. Grounds for Invasion aren’t trying to over-play or over-sync their sounds. They competently navigate the common ground of the electronic world and the artistic world, and the resultant sound is authentic--not to mention, very cool.

Rocstrong

Rocstrong is Andre J. P. Bangala. Born in the Congo and raised in Ireland, Rocstrong’s cultural background is, like his musical influence, interesting and pluralistic. He is a man taken with rock and funk sounds and looks to a diverse range of artists for his inspiration, from the likes of Elvis to Pharrell Williams. His sound is ultimately his own, though; Rocstrong writes and produces all his music.

“Hold Yah” is upbeat, fun, funky and musically fascinating. Released online just a few weeks ago, this song is only Rocstrong’s third official release, but it sounds like the accomplished track of a musician with three times that amount of output. “Hold Yah” asserts Rocstrong’s individuality, particularly in the Irish musical context. His voice manages to sound both as if from an earlier era and decidedly modern simultaneously. The song both belongs in 1970s New York and the top of the Irish charts today, timely and timeless at the same time. This song not only reinvigorates funk rock with electronic keynotes, it also brings a bit of Dublin’s urban feel into styles that otherwise live elsewhere in the globe. The singer must be commended for avoiding the electro-genre rabbit hole that traps many young artists today. Instead, Rocstrong wisely chooses to resurrect sounds and styles that shouldn’t have gone away in the first place. But Rocstrong is doing far more than great tributes to earlier musical eras--he writes his own musical instinct into the Irish music scene, bringing things back to the lively space of right here, right now.

If you’re feeling like you could do with some cool new tunes, join me by adding “Let Go” and “Hold Yah” to your playlists. They’re both available on SoundCloud. In particular, keep an eye out for Rocstrong. He’s doing something special and completely jovial for the Irish music scene.

Colleen Taylor writes the Irish Echo’s “Music Notes” column.