Review: Grian Chatten – Chaos For The Fly: Aching Balladry with a Glistening Sense of Hope

Bounding off the waves 30 miles to the north of Dublin, legend has it that ‘Chaos for the Fly’ reached Fontaines D.C. frontman Grian Chatten’s ears fully formed. Carrying in the wind the memories and ghosts of battered seaside towns, a night at Stoney Beach not only offered Chatten ‘every part’ of the album, ‘from the chord progressions to the string arrangements’, but perhaps more importantly – the will to go it alone.

Though markedly different from Fontaines D.C., Chatten’s debut solo album ‘Chaos for the Fly’ is certainly a close relation, bearing the same distinctive tone and lyrical poetry that ensnared thousands to begin with. Recognisable too is Dan Carey’s invisible hand – the same hand that produced all three Fontaines albums – making itself known here as co-producer with each unexpected element that complicates a heartfelt homage to folk balladry.

Just as romantic as the story of its inception, the tracks act as vignettes tracing the woes, joys, and lives of a motley crew of characters whose homes have always been by the sea. Not unlike poet and writer Dylan Thomas’s radio play Under Milk Wood (1954), which delves into the recesses of a sleepy Welsh village, Chatten explains how he ‘wanted to explore the stories and the people of a small seaside town, the underbelly of that life.’ And like Thomas’s play, this deep dive produces often haunting results.

The three singles that have been released so far – ‘The Score’, ‘Fairlies’, and ‘Last Time Every Time Forever’ – betray, in different ways, the memories of space and place that underpin the whole album. The whispered vulnerability and folklike melody of ‘The Score’ give way to the majestic chorus of ‘Fairlies’, whose upbeat rumbling tempo heralds a storm of strings that find an echo in the more ghostlike ‘Last Time Every Time Forever’.

The remaining tracks balance timeless and aching balladry with a glistening sense of hope. Intimate and raw moments of vocal vulnerability come supported by the unpretentious and fervent strumming of an acoustic guitar – a potent reminder of the power in simplicity. ‘All of the People’ is its crowning glory, a blindingly beautiful crystallisation of bare-boned musicianship. Elsewhere as in ‘East Coast Bed’, echoed melodies together with the jubilant revelry of brass and melancholic piano twinkle like wind chimes in measured gusts.

The great pleasure of ‘Chaos for the Fly’ is in the unexpected which embeds itself into the album’s very core. The sharper and darker edge that creeps momentarily into ‘Season for Pain’ before quickly disappearing – the tempo change, the melody change, the jangling minor key –  is a quiet moment of uncanny disruption, not unlike déjà vu. And like déjà vu or a half-remembered dream, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

‘Chaos for the Fly’ is out on June 30th via Partisan. Pre Order here.

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