Alternative Ulster Reviews OKS Album
A few months before releasing his self-titled debut album, Derry singer-songwriter Chris McConaghy aka Our Krypton Son all but declared his intentions via wonderfully enraptured singles ‘Plutonium’ and ‘Catalonian Love Song’. In no time at all, a smitten consensus formed around the suspicion that McConaghy was a unique talent that, whilst harking back to the renegade truths of certain mystical and romantically inclined songwriters, was one clearly imbued with the multi-instrumentalist’s own instantly recognisable songwriting voice. Although he had yet to fully “arrive”, the tracks were quite literally being laid for a spirited musical journey that has very much kicked into gear.
A fully-realised effort borne from lovelorn tangents, sleepless nights and backwashed thoughts, Our Krypton Son is a record neither exclusively rooted in the vague workings of swamping melancholia or unbridled optimism. In a climate increasingly over-saturated by one-dimensional songwriting sentiment, McConaghy’s masterful balance of solipsistic dissociation and starry-eyed acquiescence is one that leaves an indelible mark upon the listener two or three tracks into a first listen. There is pervading spirit of duty here; McConaghy a servant to the song and the innumerable turns of phrase that both elevate and elucidate the wisdom inherent in his exquisite four-minute narratives.
Musically, the best tracks here are singled out by the odd chord change or fleeting melody line that tugs neither at the heartstrings or the soul but somewhere undefined in between. Take the urgency running through early highlight ‘Ill Wind’, a piano-led epic propelled by an eager chromatic guitar line, McConaghy’s increasingly intent-drenched refrain of “memories” and a glorious breakdown with added unexpected banjo for good measure. Back to back with the immersive charge of ‘Gargantuan’, a piano-led ode embellished with off-centre yelps and jagged guitar lines at its outro, the singular, stirring craft of Our Krypton Son comes into sharp focus.
Whilst opener ‘When I First Lay Dreaming’, ‘Catalonian Love Song’ and ‘Birds On The Skylight’ each individually reveal McConaghy’s grasp of longing’s currency in song, the Springsteen-esque ‘Season In Hell’ reflects upon fiscal and spiritual impoverishment in such a manner that reflects the empowering relativity of worry. Like a child making shapes from patterns in the clouds, his most cutting lyrics are often his most playful. Better still, the largely stripped back ‘Sunlight In The Ashes’, a track echoing Mark Kozelek’s recent Sun Kil Moon material, sees McConaghy faring equally adept with mere voice and acoustic guitar alone. Consistently hinting at the unsaid thoughts and premonitions that bind and separate us both, one of his greatest strengths as a lyricist is his peering through the veil of the everyday and transporting the listener to a place in which you can’t help but recognise yourself in the posited characters, scenarios and set-ups.
As is to be expected, ‘Plutonium’ – arguably the finest song by an Irish solo artist in 2012 – proves a particular peak right at the end. A three minute lullaby comprised of just vocals and piano, it is a delicately coursing highlight that whilst not as overtly doting as ‘Catalonian Love Song’ feels almost mystical in the extent of its romantic vigor. Just like the outro to the track before it, ‘I’ll Never Learn To Say Goodbye’, ‘Plutonium’ spins a swooning, wistful web, giving way to the hook in the form of a subtly crushing G Minor flourish. Indeed, just like his best material, it is a song tinged with regret but ultimately salvaged by hope as informed by the laws of love, McConaghy’s innate understanding of the shifts and changes that dictates the impressionability of a particular song redolent of what the likes of Wilco achieved on Yankee Foxtrot Hotel, Elliott Smith channeled on XO and Sean Lennon – John’s son – evoked on Friendly Fire.?
In all, whilst two or three songs too long to feel totally faultless, Our Krypton Son remains one of the most accomplished debut albums from a Northern Irish singer-songwriter in some time.
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