Outbursts and Lulls

Overhead, the Albatross

Outbursts and Lulls

In the first music review from our new Journal of Music/Galway City Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme, Vincent Hughes explores the evocative music of Overhead, the Albatross at the Galway International Arts Festival.

Overhead, the Albatross first made their mark on Ireland’s instrumental scene with 2011’s Lads with Sticks EP, a four-track record that moved between cinematic post-rock and math-rock, during what was likely one of the genres’ highest points in Ireland. In the time since 2011, their sound has matured a great deal – retaining that cinematic and evocative quality, the rhythms bearing the math-rock influence, and the flashes of ferocity, while coming to occupy a greater sense of space, structure, and individuality.

On the night of the band’s Galway International Arts Festival gig at the Róisín Dubh (20 July), they were joined by Grounds for Invasion, a local group who opened with their brand of retro-wave synthpop, looping layers of synth melodies that built into an almost trance-inducing wave of sound, punctuated by electronic drum beats. Their set had a great sense of atmosphere, though screaming guitar solos and a guest appearance from local rockstar Steven Sharpe seemed to distract from the pulse of their sound. 

Delicate melodies
Overhead, the Albatross started their set with ‘Telekinetic Forest Guardian’, one of the highlights of last year’s Learning to Growl album. It quickly became clear that there were going to be some issues with sound – the louder sections of the track were almost deafening, and a lot of the more delicate melodies and movements were lost in the mix. Despite this, the track maintained much of its appeal – its refreshing optimism and hints of longing drawing the audience in as it carried towards a roaring crescendo.

Overhead’s music is permeated by beautifully evocative moments – perhaps at its best during the quiet lulls between outbursts. These are most prominent in tracks like ‘Bara’ and ‘Daeku’, with ‘Daeku’ proving a highlight of the night; roughly a third of the way through the track, the piano really comes to the fore, accompanied by gentle chord swells and drums, soon joined by a simple but beautiful vocal sample, marking what was probably the most enthralling point of the setlist. Unfortunately, as the track went on and climbed in volume, it suffered from the lack of clarity and distortion, as well as a perhaps over-eager crowd, with many of the set’s most tender moments interrupted and derailed by members of the crowd who seemed insistent on initiating some kind of a dialogue with the band.

Breakdown
Despite that, everyone present seemed very much into the performance, with the hypnotic ‘Indie Rose’, the most recent single from Learning to Growl, and the band’s cover of Hans Zimmer’s ‘Time’ (from the Inception soundtrack) proving particularly popular. The latter track, like several others on the night, was accompanied by a projection – and in this case, an audio sample – of Charlie Chaplin’s speech from The Great Dictator, a pairing that, though powerful, occasionally distracted from the track itself.

Beyond those more delicate sections of the set, the occasional flash of metal and math-rock influences added a touch of diversity, with extended breakdowns providing some room for fans to really get into the music. Unfortunately, due to the issues with the mix, the intense nature of these sections occasionally resulted in a wall of almost featureless noise, with no foothold save for the occasional snare cutting through. The band’s performance boasted a powerful and evocative quality – it’s unfortunate that, in an otherwise incredible set, so much of their music was lost in the distortion.

For more, visit www.overheadthealbatross.com

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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 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. 

This is one of two schemes currently underway. A second – supported by Clare County Council  – supports four new writers to cover musical life in Clare County. See the first music review from the Clare scheme here.

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

Published on 28 August 2017

Vincent Hughes is a writer, photographer and musician based in Galway. He graduated from NUIG’s MA in Writing in 2016, and he has written for AMBY (A Music Blog, Yea?), SIN (NUIG student newspaper) and The Thin Air. His poetry has been published in ROPES, and his pairings of poetry and photography have been featured by Dodging the Rain and An Ait Éile. He is also a live music photographer for The Thin Air, and recently began performing with Galway-based ambient folk musician AGU.