Saint Sister have long avoided classification, so much so that a phrase – ‘atmosfolk’ – was coined to describe the sound of their 2018 debut record, Shape of Silence. That record introduced the duo – Morgana McIntyre and Gemma Doherty – as stalwarts of an exciting new direction in Irish pop.
Now, with their follow up record Where I Should End, Saint Sister elude us once more. Shape of Silence – headier and somewhat more sombre – showcased their vision and style, but it’s here on their follow-up that they’ve found their groove. The album was entirely written, arranged and produced by the band, as well as being self-released.
Atmospheric and textural, these ten songs make up a visceral journey through heartbreak, isolation and in the end, hope. This is a broader sound than we’re used to from Saint Sister, full of subtle experimentation; the scales on ‘Dynamite’ that evoke eastern tonality; the Americana lilt of ‘Date Night’; the synths, beats and left-turns that crop up all over the record – chances that pay off one after another.
What is most exciting is just how much pop there is. The shimmering, disco-inspired ‘Karaoke Song’ wouldn’t be out of place on a later ABBA record, with lyrics about choreographing dances to Tom Jones’ ‘Sex Bomb’ in a karaoke booth proving that you can have a sense of humour while playing the harp. ‘Oh My God Oh Canada’ leans gently into folk-rock, the ‘live band’ sound lifting their impossibly beautiful harmonies further still.
‘The Place That I Work’ shows exactly what they can do with three-part harmony, employing the help of Lisa Hannigan, whose voice sits beautifully alongside Doherty and McIntyre’s in this modern ballad of heartbreak, told through a sense of story and place that keeps you on tenterhooks till the end.
A song inspired by Ireland’s eighth amendment referendum, ‘Manchester Air’, is a masterclass in lyrical minimalism: riding on the back of a bike, beating the boys at foosball, falling in love, having ‘the talk’. There’s no need for the band to be overt about the topic; we know what is meant by that final, devastating line: ‘Roll me up / Sit me down / I’m the talk of the town’. The acapella two-part harmony is joined by strings and drone-like tones – courtesy of Crash Ensemble – that build so subtly you might not notice they’re there in the first place, eventually taking over in an emotional swell. The song was written in the week leading up to the referendum, and it’s a testament to the transportive power of this music and these words that, once again, it all comes flooding back.
Closer ‘Any Dreams?’ is pure, dreamy indie-pop, fusing synths and drum machines with swelling string flourishes again from Crash Ensemble, elevating the mood to something greater than the sum of its parts – this is a collaboration that works wonderfully. Vocals – controlled, close and breathless until now – are finally belted out in a triumphant end to a record that never takes its eye off hope.
Where I Should End is Saint Sister at their best; confident, imaginative, and fast becoming some of Ireland’s most innovative artists.
To purchase Where I Should End, visit: www.saintsisterband.com/
Published on 5 July 2021
Andrea Cleary is a freelance music and culture writer based in Dublin.