Bringing the Absent Party
If the past couple of weeks have taught us anything, it’s that music is our great uniter. Our desire to hear good tunes – ideally amongst friends – seems to compound during difficult times, and times have surely never been so difficult. Those who have dropped in to one of the many music live streams throughout Ireland’s COVID-19 lockdown can attest to the power of a good session shared with others, even if we’re home alone. The Scratch are one group offering such lightness in a time of despair.
Initially gaining traction with their spirited live shows, The Scratch fuse humour with bravado over ecstatically driven riffs. Hailing from the Irish metal scene (there is a significant crossover with the line-up of now disbanded metal quintet Red Enemy), the group formed as a low-pressure outlet for music-making. Those keen on the intricacies and density of metal will find something to love here, and so too will fans of the recent so-called folk revival, helmed by the likes of Lankum, Junior Brother and Lisa O’Neill. What The Scratch brings to this scene, ever-expanding in its popularity, is, well, the craic.
Now, their long awaited debut LP Couldn’t Give a Rats is released – three months before it was intended. The band didn’t so much read the room, but kick the door in with a 24-pack under its arm. And thank God they did – if there was ever a time for a band like The Scratch, it is now.
At the time of writing, the album sits at third in the iTunes charts, achieved with little to no promotion beyond a Facebook post on the band’s page, and testament to their ability to ignite joy and community when it’s needed most.
Something in the blend of faux-machismo lyrics and rhythmic folk captures the atmosphere of an opaque back-room in a local, or a kitchen session bleeding into the wee hours, activities sorely missed during the current crisis. While it’s easy to hear lyrics like ‘take a bow / you’re a top-class cunt’ or ‘what’s a little sap like you gonna do’ as macho posturing, there’s a lightness to The Scratch that errs on the side of mischief and whimsy. While a thick skin might be required on admission to this party, there’s always a sense that the jokes won’t overstep the mark.
There is also a delicacy that’s unexpected from such a boisterous group. ‘Session Song’ is a gorgeous, honest portrayal of the pitfalls of drinking culture: ‘we’re all slaves to the weekend / and I am no different’. It’s a sombre but vital moment of self-reflection that builds to a cathartic switch towards something more closely resembling positivity, even hope.
By transferring their skills as seasoned metal musicians to a more acoustically driven sound, there is a new space to play with storytelling. ‘Rat Race’ is a prime example of this transference, using clanging acoustic strings to drive a dense metal-tinged rhythm. Elsewhere, ‘Seanchai’ blends these heavy rhythms with ornate melodic variations before layering so many acoustic instruments that the sound is indistinguishable from a wall of electric guitars. The melodic interplay in the opening bars of ‘Birdie’ mirrors the movement of the ‘social butterfly… always on the move’, building once more to dense harmonies in the chorus. These are songs designed to be bellowed at the top of your lungs.
Though the jokes are plentiful, the playing is more serious than ever. Intricate melodies, complex timings and commanding rhythms abound here to form a sound akin to Lankum’s younger, more rambunctious brother. Don’t be fooled by the whimsical lyricism – these are playful songs masterfully played.
Published on 2 April 2020
Andrea Cleary is a freelance music and culture writer based in Dublin.