Moments of Striking Optimism

Eoin French of Talos

Moments of Striking Optimism

In his second review as part of the Journal of Music/Galway City Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme, Vincent Hughes reviews the RTÉ Choice Music Prize nominated album 'Wild Alee' by Talos and attends their recent performance at the Róisín Dubh.

Talos, fronted by Corkonian songwriter and architect Eoin French, are a band that in many ways embody the sense of a lovelorn artist enamoured with the sea; quietly reserved, full of longing, and, of course, captivated by the waves. The title of their debut release, 2017’s Wild Alee, alludes to a thematic thread that runs through their music. ‘Alee’ refers to the side of a ship sheltered from the wind, and the album’s gentle melancholy evokes a sense of seeking shelter from a storm. Coming to the end of their 2017 touring, Talos played a tightly packed Róisín Dubh on 28 December, their second Galway show of the year.

Moments of striking optimism
Musically, Wild Alee consists largely of electronic-, synth-wave-, and post-rock-influenced pop ballads, somewhat reminiscent of a cross between London Grammar and Sigur Rós; opening with ‘Runaway’’s lightly distorted guitar chords and sombre falsetto, the album quickly establishes its tone – longing and mournful, with moments of striking optimism. The album’s second track, ‘Odyssey’ opens with a whispered falsetto – it’s beautiful and simultaneously desolate.

Looking towards the tail-end of the album, ‘Your Love Is An Island’ is perhaps Wild Alee’s most powerful track; it starts off delicately, French’s vocals accompanied by finger-plucked acoustic guitar for the first two minutes, before the vocals stop. A texture swells behind the guitar, suspending the listener in the moment, and French begins to sing the refrain ‘Your love is an island; I’m scorched in the sands of it’. The drums and synth fade in and climb in intensity, eventually encompassing French’s voice in a driving wall of sound, which eventually recedes until all that’s left of the narrator is a distant echo. The track concludes with a short, sorrowful duet of guitar and piano, ending with the sense of something perhaps unfinished, a resolution denied.

Identity crisis
Despite its strengths, the album does ebb and flow; several of the tracks on the album feel almost superfluous, as, despite their enjoyable quality and solid construction, they are perhaps a little too consistent in sound and structure. Wild Alee suffers from something of an identity crisis – a number of tracks fail to stand apart from the rest of the album and it can be a little difficult to distinguish one from another at a passing glance.

The only tracks that really feel like a significant departure from the album’s template are ‘Piece[s]’, ‘Endgame’, ‘209’ and ‘Wetlands’; ’Piece[s]’ being a reverb-laden duet of piano and vocals, an early intermission of sorts; ‘Endgame’ featuring lamenting vocals and acoustic guitar arpeggios that approach from a more minimalist angle; while ‘209’ and ‘Wetlands’ feel almost reminiscent of something from a London Grammar and M83 album, respectively. 

Fleeting subtleties
The best way to experience Wild Alee is in a live setting. Though the album might give you the impression of a quiet and reserved performance, the band handle the stage with confidence. Some of the tracks really come into their own live, taking on a much more hypnotic quality, and featuring some minor changes – ‘209’ seems more deeply textured, for example, while ‘Your Love is an Island’ features an extended conclusion that brings the performance to a satisfyingly cathartic end.

Wild Alee is undeniably beautiful, with its lush instrumentation and the almost Yeatsian poetry in French’s lyrics, but the album’s greatest strength is perhaps its fleeting subtleties – an arpeggio, a harmony, a line, or a texture, something that rises from the surface for a few precious seconds, then breaks, and recedes.

Talos’ Wild Alee is available on vinyl and digital from Feel Good Lost. For more, see www.talostalos.com

The winner of the 2018 RTÉ Choice Music Prize will be announced at Vicar Street on 8 March.

This review is published as part of a new scheme for music writers in Galway City. The Journal of Music/Galway City Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme is supported by Galway City Council Arts Service and was launched in March 2017. Over 12 months, the editorial team of The Journal of Music will work with five new writers – Vincent Hughes, Shannon McNamee, Jake Morgan, Dylan Murphy and Julie Seagrave  – to expand the magazine’s coverage of musical life in the city. The first reviews from the Galway scheme include Vincent Hughes on Overhead, the AlbatrossJake Morgan on the RTÉ Concert OrchestraDylan Murphy on Brian Wilson, Shannon McNamee on Lankum and Julie Seagrave on Loah

This is one of two schemes currently underway. A second – supported by Clare County Council  – supports four new writers to cover musical life in County Clare. 

For further details on the background to the schemes, please visit https://goo.gl/QY83ga.

Published on 10 January 2018

Vincent Hughes is a writer, photographer, and musician based in Galway. He graduated from NUIG’s MA in Writing in 2016, and he participated in The Journal of Music’s Galway City Music Writing Mentoring Scheme in 2017. He has written and photographed for a number of music-based and other news publications, and his pairings of poetry and photography have been featured by Dodging the Rain and An Ait Eile.

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