by Tom Warner, Best & Next Department
When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, it cemented his legacy not only as a celebrated rock & roll lyricist but as a legitimate poet, period. Lauded for having created “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” Dylan’s achievement no doubt inspired many other pop musicians who aspired to have their words taken just as seriously as their music. One of those bands is Fontaines D.C., who hail from across the pond in Ireland, “the land of poets and legends, of dreamers and rebels,” as author Nora Roberts famously described the Emerald Isle. “All of these have music woven through and around them. Tunes for dancing and for weeping, for battle or for love.”
Roberts’ description aptly describes Fontaines D.C., so if post-punk pop from the land of poetry and legend appeals to you, you’re in luck because you can use your library card to stream or download (mobile device only) both of Fontaines D.C.’s albums to-date, Dogrel (2019) and A Hero’s Death (2020), through Hoopla!
Fontaines D.C. are a young post-punk band from Dublin (the D.C. is for Dublin City, a suffix the group added to their name when it turned out there was a band from Los Angeles also named The Fontaines) that formed in 2017 while the lads were attending music college at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMMI). Taking their name from a fictional character portrayed by Al Martino in the movie The Godfather (Vito Corleone’s godson, the Sinatra-styled singer “Johnny Fontaine”), the musicians – singer Grian Chatten, guitarists Carlos O’Connell and Conor Curley, bassist Conor Deegan III and drummer Tom Coll – first bonded over a shared love of poetry. In fact, they collectively released two collections of poetry – Vroom (inspired by American Beat poets) and Wingding (inspired by Irish poets) – before recording their critically acclaimed debut album, Dogrel in 2019.
The title of the band’s debut is a self-deprecating homage to “Doggerel,” the working-class “poetry of the people” popularized by so-called “bad” poets like William McGonagall and later by the playful light verse of Baltimore’s own Ogden Nash that made a virtue of the trivial. Dogrel was released to critical acclaim in April 2019: it was voted Album of the Year by record label Rough Trade and BBC Radio 6 Music, and was nominated for both the Mercury Prize and the Choice Music Prize. “Shouty post-punk bands are making a surprise comeback in 2019,” hailed The Irish Times, crediting “this brutal but articulate Irish bunch” with capturing “the feeling of living in Dublin as it balances historical weight with financial upheaval.” The opening rant “Big” sets the template for the band’s sound – equal parts Mark E. Smith and The Fall vitriol, pounding beats and driving Gang of Four guitars – with lyrics reflecting the group’s upbringing in Dublin’s historically working-class southwest neighborhood, “The Liberties”: “Dublin in the rain is mine, a pregnant city with a Catholic mind”. “Chequeless Reckless” and “Liberty Belle” continue the overcast mood, but sunny pop shines through to save the day on tunes like the Smiths-friendly “Television Screen” and the album’s best song, the breakthrough single “Boys In the Better Land,” a tour-de-force of melodic pop and verbal assault that even gives a shout-out to a famous Dubliner muse: “The radio is all about a runway model, with a face like sin and a heart like a James Joyce novel.” But be forewarned: singer Grian Chatte’s brogue is as thick and heavy as a bowl of split-pea soup and at times as hard to decipher as a James Joyce novel!Intrigued? Then give a listen to “Boys in the Better Land” (YouTube)
The band’s second studio album, A Hero’s Death, was written and recorded in the midst of extensive touring for their debut, and was only released last month – yet here it is on Hoopla already (hooray!). Despite titles such as “Sunny,” “Oh Such a Spring,” and “Love Is the Thing,” the mood is mostly brooding and reserved, as if the band didn’t want to be pigeon-holed by the blunt punk format of their initial offering. In fact, Grian Chatten went so far as to call the songs “a dismissal of expectations.” Thus, the quietly hypnotic “You Said” – sounding like a slow-tempo Smiths song, with Grian Chatten playing Morrissey to a beautiful, lilting guitar solo lifted from Johnny Marr’s playbook – gives way to “Living In America,” wherein Chatten channels the spirit of Ian Curtis in a Joy Division dirge. Clearly, this a sophomore effort that shows growth and maturity, trading the driving punk assault of their debut for what one critic called “a series of existential mantras set to broody post-punk anthems.” So feel free to dismiss your expectations but don’t dismiss Fontaines D.C. just yet; you may find yourself embracing some unpredictably exciting new sounds worth exploring.The debut single from the album is the titular “A Hero’s Death.” To watch the official video, starring Aiden Gillen (“Littlefinger” on HBO’s Game of Thrones), click here.