Category Archives: Audio Recording

Love, Revenge, Fancy Shirts and High-Speed Ship Chases: Kern “The Left & The Leaving” Album Launch in the DC Music Club, Dublin, 17/10/19

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Kern 2019 photographed by John Wilde. Source: Kern on Facebook.

On Friday night, traditional-folk group Kern launched their second album The Left & The Leaving. Their debut album, False Deceiver was critically acclaimed when released in 2016 (see Tradconnect.com, Irish Music magazine, The Irish Echo, thebestofmusicandfilm.com and others) and Kern spent the better part of the next three years gigging their socks off. They’ve played many stages in Ireland and Europe: the Spirit Store in Dundalk, Temple Bar Tradfest, both recent Fleadh Cheoils in Drogheda, Milwaukee Irish Fest, Whelan’s, The Cobblestone, Vantastival, Culture Connections, Dingle, Germany to name but a few. Not only this but they kept their finger on the recording studio in the interim and released a “winter mix” of the single Short Term Thing and Till The Docklands Drown. I’ve attended a bunch of their Dublin/Louth gigs and have always been impressed by their thrilling live performances. Also, their sound translates excellently from studio to stage and back again. As a music producer, sound engineer and follower, I find both arenas equally enjoyable to listen to Kern in.

The Left & The Leaving was produced by Trevor Hutchinson, the founder member of Lúnasa. Mr Hutchinson also produced False Deceiver and performed double bass on both albums. The album artwork is a beautiful painting by Louth artist and illustrator Caoimhe McCarthy and inside there’s a handsome photograph of the band with their respective instruments, taken by Meath photographer, John Wilde. In keeping with False Deceiver, the comprehensive and interesting inner sleeve-notes are attractively presented.

Young Louth traditional-folk group Alfi opened for Kern in the DC Music Club, Dublin. The trio consists of Fiachra Meek (uilleann pipes/vocal/low whistle), Alannah Thornburgh (harp/vocal) and Ryan McAuley (banjo/vocal). They played a charming set from their debut EP Wolves in the Woods which combines American old-time and traditional Irish music. They displayed fine musicianship with stellar performances on each instrument respectively, a fantastic vocal blend- particularly the male harmony on The Drink Song, well-researched notes on their tune and song sources and engaging banter between tunes. I worked with Fiachra during the final year of my undergraduate degree, pestering him to join me in the studio as I tried out various microphones and combinations on his uilleann pipes, quizzing him on how to the pipes make sound and dropping in on pre-production sessions with his then-band Na Tonnta, for our 3-track studio production. The last time I saw him was at a post-studio session dinner in the student apartment block, where he and a fellow band member tried to open a coconut with the tiniest hammer you ever saw. One hour, a scratched floor and a marvellous vegetarian curry later, the band collapsed in hearty laughs and I actually can’t remember if they did crack that coconut or not. Fiachra carries forward his witty humour into Alfi and I’m very interested to follow this promising young band’s career.

Following Alfi, Kern arrived onstage to a rapturous applause with very special guest- Mr Dónal Lunny. Dónal launched The Left and The Leaving with light-hearted commentary and much praise, citing his favourite as Drowsyman’s Hornpipe/Martin Young’s Polka. SJ McArdle (guitar/vocal), Brendan McCreanor (uilleann pipes/low whistle/vocal) and Barry Kieran (fiddle) along with Mr Lunny (bouzouki) played a joyous set of tunes. Off the bat, the amount of practice and thought that went into the set was obvious- tight performance, intricate and unexpected pauses, superb energy and purest passion and joy. The four beamed at each other constantly throughout.

Kern continued their set after Dónal took a polite bow and settled into the audience for a deserved drink. It was immediately apparent that the fans Kern worked so hard to attract would not be disappointed with their new material. Their new songs clearly excellently crafted, sounded like a perfect continuation from those on False Deceiver: Powerful, energetic strumming and expert dexterous fingerpicking from SJ which at times was so gentle, he hardly seemed to be touching his guitar strings at all, yet each note rang through clear as a bell. More husky vocals telling stories of Irish days past, joked by SJ as mostly having maritime themes. Despite the giddy laughter concerning extra-fancy shirts that magically blag you communion faster in Mass, tales of high-speed ship chases and what not, SJ sings beautiful songs of a serious nature- Irish emigration, the Famine, the wars and hard-working class Irish heroes. Kern’s way of combining Irish tunes into their songs is certainly distinctive and works very well. Brendan and Barry each weave gorgeous melodies around SJ’s vocal, adding an extra layer of emotional essence. If you’re too enthralled by the music to listen to the lyrics, you’ll not be in left in the dark of the subject matter. Barry’s light-handed vibrato will tug at your heartstrings while Brendan’s lilting chanter can convey a graceful joy.

Kern’s new tunes are equally impressive. Clearly innovators who have a deep respect for the tradition and players, the lads unleashed new compositions of their own. Barry’s Somers March/Daragh Patrick’s is quite frankly a masterpiece. I was blown away. His march, named after the group’s stay in Germany, is delicate and sweet while the jig, named after his godson, is a bundle of joy. Both tunes, separately or combined could easily feature in a movie soundtrack, they’re that cinematic. Brendan’s Martin Young’s polka, part of the Drowsyman’s Hornpipe/Martin Young’s Polka set is such a cheerful tune and instant toe tapper also. Brendan dedicated the tune to the memory of fellow piper Martin Young. Staying within the locality, Bonny Light Horseman, heralded as “Drogheda’s National Anthem” roused a chorus of voices, filling the venue. And speaking of innovation within the tradition, I couldn’t help but be impressed by Kern’s magnificent stops and starts within Russian Reels and The New Jigs. Tasteful, dramatic and intelligent, the lads kept the audience on their toes.

All in all, the old Louth tunes and songs, and the new regional-inspired material are clearly safe in the hands of Kern. The album launch was a visible and audible success and several early listens of The Left & The Leaving indicate that this album too will be a staple in my playlist of Louth coastal beach walks.

Hup the lads! Well done and many congrats to you! Onwards to this new season in Kern’s career, we can only listen in delight.

Kern’s newly launched official website: https://kernmusic.com/

Follow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kernband/

Purchase The Left &The Leaving on iTunes: https://music.apple.com/ie/album/the-left-and-the-leaving/1482957996

Alfi Bandcamp: https://alfi.bandcamp.com/

 

Daring to Burn Bright: Emigrate, A Million Degrees

How does one even start discussing how and why, Emigrate’s latest output A Million Degrees is the best thing to hit rock music this year?! Released on iTunes today (yesterday was the official release date) A Million Degrees is the 3rd instalment of alternative rock gold gifted to the world by German rock icon, Richard Zven Kruspe.

Kruspe obtained a cult following for his industrial guitar riffage and growling backing vocals in Rammstein, arguably one of the top arena metal bands of our time. The staggering success of Rammstein is not for this blog though as a fan from my teens, I cannot wait to see their flame-throwing, inflatable-boat crowd surfing and hugely (look it up if you don’t know!) entertaining live show again.

Carrying forward a sense of Beatlemania into my own youth, I had a favourite band member. Richard Kruspe was my Ringo, with his dark spikey hair, black nail polish, eyeliner and tank tops. Generally the ladies favourite (although singer Till Lindemann has an active fanatical following still on Instagram) with his toned arms and square jawline, Kruspe oozed that classic rockstar sex appeal. For me though, it went beyond his good looks and intriguing stage presence. His style of guitar playing updated the prototypical chuggery of James Hetfield (Metallica)- tighter, harder and more militant in execution.

Kruspe
Richard Kruspe 1997
Richard Kruspe
Richard Kruspe, 2016. Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5722116/mediaviewer/rm896608512

However with all these amazing attributes, it wasn’t obvious to me (and I suspect, other fans) that Kruspe was capable of fronting his very own band. His presence in Rammstein was that of a dark horse- moody, quiet, watching everything happening around him with folded arms yet instrumental to it all. He never took away from the showmanship of Lindemann and he was the perfect sum of all the flamboyant parts of Rammstein.

Emigrate
Emigrate (2007)

Which was why the announcement of Emigrate in 2006, his solo project, took me by surprise. A fantastic surprise and one which paid off immediately, “Wake Up” was the song of the century for me. I couldn’t get enough of his singing voice (surprisingly good with a great range, his mixed up German/American accent added to the appeal), the fact he was singing in English was a bomb drop and set him a million miles apart from Rammstein, his signature guitar playing was even more obvious and the songs- the songs! The songs were out of this world. Heavy, hard hitting, catchy with sleek production to match, Emigrate was an artistic force to be reckoned with. It was apparent that Kruspe had a depth of creativity which was previously untapped and unexplored.

 

Silent so Long
Silent So Long (2014)

In 2014, his second output Silent So Long was released. This hit me in my final academic year of my audio degree and it’s production values floored me. The drums, the drums, the drums!!! That drum sound is worth shedding a tear for. Holding up with its predecessor’s level of rock songwriting, Emigrate’s sound further progressed with FM synthetic sounds (bringing to mind for me, the sound of 80’s chart music and perhaps a throwback to Kruspe’s youth in divided Berlin) and collaborations with vocalists Marilyn Manson, Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead), Peaches, Jonathan Davis (Korn) and Frank Delle. Fans seem to be divided over this album and while a very small handful of songs are skippers (sorry Lemmy, I love you and Motorhead but this collab didn’t work for me), I really liked it. It has a certain coldness and wintery atmosphere that I just really like. It shows a different side to Kruspe than Emigrate showed us, I felt it showed a certain maturity and a creative mind which was very much in tune with its own artistry.

A Million Degrees
A Million Degrees (2018)

Almost 4 years to the day, we are graced with A Million Degrees. Used as a forerunner to the album release, 1234 feat. Benjamin Kowalewicz, prompted uncertainty in this longtime Kruspe fan. Not enough Kruspe vocally and the song was very, commercial. It seemed rather contrived to me, no matter how many times I repeat-played it and tried to like it. Nonetheless I’m glad I held out! A Million Degrees excels it.

The title track alone is a golden moment in Kruspe’s career. Opening with that cold FM synth sound I liked so much from Silent So Long, Kruspe’s classic Germanic overdriven stiff vocal fits perfectly. This could be from the same album, but perhaps it’s a little bit more Kraftwerky.

Then BANG! “Burn bright!”, Kruspe’s delicious baritione breaks into his soaring upper range. The mood changes from synthy atmospheric darkness to straight up Emigrate rock. Overdriven guitars and live drums, the groove is sexy in it’s rigidness, thanks to an offbeat open high hat. Leading into an anthemic chorus, the word mature springs to mind again. If you don’t get goosebumps listening to this chorus, you must be emotionally vacant! Kruspe’s voice is at it’s best, perhaps the most emotive it’s ever been. Soaring at the top end of his range, he’s vocally strong and more powerful than I’ve ever heard him before. I adore the contrast in his voice- the rigidness in his verse vocal (the Rammstein Kruspe with crossed arms we all know him for) and then the sheer power in his chorus vocal (the artist he has dared to become). The top end, arpeggiated synths entwine the synthy Kraftwerk influences with stadium rock .

Linked with a clean guitar tone in the upper-mids which hearkens back to Emigrate, verse 2 carries forward the atmospheric synths and rock powerhouse of drums and distorted guitars. This clean guitar tone is the foundation for the breakdown in the middle eight and a swirling atmosphere of effected vocals wash around it- the plunge before the climax of the final chorus sections.

For me, the title track is the absolute stand out. Though on first listen, the entire album shares its brilliance. Rammstein fans may not be too sure, especially with the (sorry to use this word again) Kraftwerky Let’s Go which features Till Lindemann singing in German, but Emigrate fans certainly will.

Kruspe is on fire, no pun intended.

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Field Recording at Dunany Point, Co. Louth, Ireland

A couple of weeks ago I brought my Zoom H4N handy recorder to my favourite secret beach- Dunany Point, Co. Louth.

Dunany Point, Co. Louth
Dunany Point, Co. Louth

Dunany Point (Dunany being the anglicisation of Dún Áine -the fort of Áine) is said to be a place of deep sorrow, where the beautiful Áine sat in her chair of stone and looked across the sea towards her love who never returned. It is said that the black rocks at the base of the cliff were Áine’s attempt to build a causeway so she could see her love one day. Alas, Áine never did see her love again and slowly went mad with grief.

Stones and rocks at the base  of the cliff
Stones and rocks at the base of the cliff
The shore at Dunany Point
The shore at Dunany Point
Looking towards the Cooley Mountains
Looking towards the Cooley Mountains

This recording might be nice for those who wish to hear a mostly unvisited, unspoiled beach in a quiet corner of Ireland!

Please enjoy this recording and if you wish to use it in your project, don’t hesitate to ask for permission!