Kodaline. PHOTO: JOSH SHINNER
By Colleen Taylor
In 2012, Kodaline very quickly became one of Ireland’s most successful 21st century international bands. The Irish rock band’s single “All I Want”—which remains their most played track worldwide—instantly became a favorite of BBC Radio. Subsequently, popular television show “Grey’s Anatomy” featured it on an episode and Google picked it up for their famous “Year in Review” video. Next, the band earned two important cross-Atlantic nominations, MTV’s “Brand New for 2013” and the BBC’s “Sound for 2013.” The following year, Kodaline lived up to the predictions made by MTV and BBC: the band released its much-acclaimed first studio album, “In A Perfect World,” and won the People’s Choice Award. But does its sophomore album, “Coming Up for Air” (2015), live up to all the hype of three years ago? So far, so good.
Kodaline is the town-band fairytale. Founders Steve Garrigan and Mike Prendergast (lead singer and lead guitarist, respectively) founded the group in their native Swords, Co. Dublin. Drummer Vinny May Jr., another Swords local, soon joined the enterprise, and finally in 2012, bassist Jason Boland (the outlier, from Kildare) signed on. The group of four rapidly transitioned from Swords to the global stage, and the rest of the story is the dream come true of every hometown band that fantasizes about a big break. Perhaps a part of the course of events owes its luck to chance and good timing, but Kodaline is worthy of the fame. “All I Want” truly is an exquisite song—not quite folk and not quite rock, but pleasing to fans of both genres. It’s not just providence that caused a number of television shows and international forums to pick the song up as an anthem. Its melody captivates and transports any listener.
But Kodaline is no one-hit wonder, as their second album, “Coming Up For Air,” evinces. This album shows the band getting in touch with their softer, more vulnerable side, while always attending to the drama of modern rock. As with previous releases, Garrigan’s high-pitched, soft, almost feminine vocals once again distinguish the character of the album, capturing the emotion and vulnerability behind the lyrics of each and every song on the record. He makes poignant and moving what might otherwise be unremarkable rock songs. The most powerful example of this sensation is “Unclear,” written by Garrigan himself. His breathy singing moves from range to range, as the backing fusion of eclectic instruments adds further flavor to the song. There is even a little bit of harp accompaniment in the track, reflecting the band’s national identity.
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The opening track “Honest” is another great one, and it sets the tone for the album. Its complexity, lyrically and instrumentally, continues throughout the entirety of “Coming Up for Air.” The echo-y, choral vocals of the track signify a consistent, and well-executed theme in that a chorus of distant voices seem to pepper every song on the album. One of my favorites is “The One,” a sweet love song that is also one of the more toned-down tracks on the album. Interestingly, the band did not initially intend to record “The One.” But when they sang it for a fan proposing to his girlfriend in Toronto, the YouTube recording went viral. The quartet decided to give the fans what they wanted, and the song is the most played of the album on Spotify. Finally, while I think Kodaline is at its best in the softer, more lyrical tracks, the upbeat “Play the Game” is a fun, energetic addition that mixes up the more melancholic notes of the album.
This Christmas, Kodaline played their hometown of Dublin with sold out shows at the 3Arena. Up next in February, they’ll be taking “Coming Up for Air” across Europe, playing the most cosmopolitan, artsy cities, from Paris to Barcelona, to Berlin and Utrecht. If you’ve missed the Kodaline kraze, you can visit kodaline.com to watch the music videos for their latest album: “Honest,” “Unclear,” “The One,” and most recently, “Love Will Set You Free.” We’ll all be wishing we were in Glasgow this week as Kodaline takes the O2 stage the same night as another Irish musical superstar, Hozier, for Able2UK fundraising concert.