Fontaines D.C. have been pigeonholed as the British Isles’ next great post-punk export a la Shame or Idles, but this Irish five-piece deserve more than that reductive framing. Fontaines D.C. are more poetic than the bands they’re lumped in with, and their debut album Dogrel is a testament to a different set of concerns. Dogrel takes on the degradation of urban cities as lively cultural hubs and launching pads for people to make something of themselves—or at least put some change in their pockets. Frontman Grian Chatten and his bandmates share a love of literature and poetry (the Beats, James Joyce, Patrick Kavanagh, etc.), and they write songs together in Irish pubs, resulting in a brazen-faced, romantic portrait of Dublin and its vast characters.
Chatten’s speak-sing delivery in a distinct Dublin tongue is another thing that sets them apart. His droney recitations never reach the kind of gravelly howl you’d associate with Shame or Idles, but his voice is no less expressive. You can’t miss those Irish rolled Rs when Chatten sings, “slick little boy with a mind of Ritz” on their snappy lead track “Big.” Chatten proclaims amidst lashing cymbals and a hopping bass line, “Dublin in the rain is mine / A pregnant city with a Catholic mind.” Despite piling onto the common criticisms of Ireland, their brutal realism comes from authentic personal experience and a desire to hold a mirror to their homeland’s face and empower it. Though with descriptions like “a cabbie [pissing] on the wheel of his own car,” “the breeze in the night time [that] would kill you stone dead” or “that violent ‘how do you do,’” Fontaines D.C. likely won’t receive any job offers from the Irish tourism board any time soon.
Though Fontaines D.C. loosely fall into the post-punk framework thanks to droll vocals and occasional fits of spiky guitars, they aren’t a musical monolith. “Liberty Belle” is equipped with surfy guitars, “Boys in the Better Land” is a more polished take on the Ramones and the tender ballad “Roy’s Tune” has tear-inducing hooks and lyrics packed with devastating melancholia. Their post-punk chops are also up to snuff. The subtle, revolving guitar resonance on “Television Screen” has a wide palette of emotional tones, their matter-of-fact vocals on “Hurricane Laughter” are striking, the bass line on “The Lotts” sounds like Joy Division-era Peter Hook and the sinister slide guitar licks that open “Too Real” prove they have a few tricks up their sleeves.
Two of their biggest calling cards are self-belief and authenticity. The uplifting lyrical themes on the lead track “Big” (“My childhood was small / But I’m gonna be big”) are analogous to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” the lead track on Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, though “Big” has more wit and spit. If self-awareness is one factor of the renewed interest in post-punk, the intense, charismatic Chatten certainly has it as he pokes fun at charisma (“Charisma is exquisite manipulation”). And contrary to what listeners might think, Chatten isn’t evangelizing when he sings, “If you’re a rock star, pornstar, superstar / Doesn’t matter what you are / Get yourself a good car and get out of here.” He’s simply the tongue-in-cheek messenger of the conventional wisdom that’s often spewed at Irish youth. Dogrel is an album of tremendous ardor and vivid landscapes, and interspersed with an Irish underdog spirit, Fontaines D.C. are nearly untouchable.
Click here to read Paste’s recent interview with Fontaines D.C. frontman Grian Chatten.