‘Map’ is electro tour de force

"A Map of the Kingdom of Ireland" and Roger Doyle's "Heresy" will be released in New York this evening at the Irish Arts Center.

Music Notes / By Colleen Taylor

You know how people say don’t judge a book by its cover? Well don’t judge the new 2018 album “A Map of the Kingdom of Ireland” by its cover either. What looks like it might be a collection of 1798 rebel songs is actually a cutting edge electro-indie-acoustic compilation. In fact, I think the cover is deliberately misleading—an attempt to confuse eye and ear and thereby actively rewrite what “the music of Ireland” means. In this album, the Clancy Brothers era is long past, replaced by a collection of innovative, experimental electro-acoustic artists from the young Tóirse Ó’Ríordán and Cathal Coughlan, to one the best in the biz: Roger Doyle. This album is a tour de force of Ireland’s trendiest music, an exemplar of the country’s fastest rising popular genre, electro. Still, if electro isn’t your cup of tea (I confess, I’d typically prefer some old Clancy coffee myself), you cannot help but be intrigued by the diverse collection of sounds this album has to offer, all the diverse everyday moments it weaves into melody.

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“A Map of the Kingdom of Ireland” was compiled by Heresy records founder Eric Fraad and boasts an impressive lineup. Top featured artist is Roger Doyle, known as the “Godfather of Irish Electronic Music,” whose compositions have earned him two prizes in the Dublin Symphony Orchestra Composition Competition and awards from the Bourges Electro-Acoustic Competition. Doyle’s otherworldly imagination is on display in this album with his composition for the finale to “Room in the Tower.” The album also features the techno/neo-classical sounds of Cathal Coughlan, where classical piano meets ghostly electronica. Finally, the album includes two rare tracks by Princess Tinymeat, an Irish punk-rock band from the 1980s. The album finishes off with an electronica ballad by the one of the younger generation, Paul Morrin, aka Spectac, who debuted in Dublin in 2000.

Roger Doyle.

The most stunning tracks on the album—the ones I wanted to listen to again—were by Tóirse Ó Ríordán: “Atop D’Seefin” and “Unscan O’Malley.” These compositions blended instrument with reverb so harmoniously that the constructedness of the remix was inaudible. Instead, all I heard was moving, emotive, interesting music: a synth machine merging melodies with harmonica, accordion, and guitar. Of all the tracks on the album, these two sounded the most “Irish,” clearly paying a loose, subtle homage to a traditional Irish music tradition. Bizarrely enough, the song had me thinking about the bards—perhaps the strange, almost psychedelic effect electronica can have. These compositions by Ó Ríordán contained none of the harsh, grating sounds I often here in electro and punk, but rather, they gave a soft, elegant finish to the genre. Somehow, his music was entirely futuristic yet also traditional, at last aligning with the historical resonances evoked by the album cover.

Most of all, I find “The Kingdom of Ireland” an interesting cultural artifact. Perhaps it’s oxymoronic to say that about an album that’s so trendy and current, but it captures something of the contradiction I find in 21st century Ireland: a culture that both honors the sounds and experiences of its history, yet often intentionally sheds that history for a very cosmopolitan, trendy and “cool” present. Ironically, in being so intrinsically, intentionally of the present moment, perhaps even the future, “A Map of the Kingdom of Ireland” had me thinking yet again about the past.