The Waiting Place
Irish millennials understand liminality. The feeling of being on the cusp of something – a house, a career, security – but never quite emerging from what came before. Political decisions determine personal progress, with change seeming to happen around, but never to, us. The generation has its feet firmly planted in the midst of disturbance, grounded in the only footing we have – flux, instability, change.
Land of No Junction, the debut LP from Aoife Nessa Frances, is rooted in the experience of waiting for life to happen. The title was borne of a mishearing: Frances mistook Llandudno Junction, in Wales, for ‘Land of no Junction’, growing as a concept and becoming the metaphorical homestead of her generation. ‘It’s a liminal space – a dark vast landscape to visit in dreams’ she writes, ‘A place of waiting where I could sit with uncertainty and accept it. Rejecting the distinct and welcoming the uncertain and the unknown.’
Together with collaborator Cian Nugent, Frances weaves deep vocal textures with skillful melodies. Shimmering guitar lines meld with spooky keys and bright, cacophonous drums. The album wears its influences on its sleeve, with more than a hint of Angel Olsen’s recent, orchestral All Mirrors, as well as some of the more unconventional aspects of Cat Le Bon’s sound. Even the lively guitar melody ‘Libra’ points to the buoyant inflections of Belle & Sebastian or Johnny Marr. But, crucially: it is not derivative. This is an album of considered arrangements, and one which rewards patience.
She is supported by a talented cast of musicians, including Nugent on bass and lead guitar, Brendan Jenkinson on keys, Brendan Doherty on drums and percussion, and Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh on strings. Each player brings a distinct element to every song, striking a balance that rarely emerges on a debut.
Frances is our stately storyteller. Whether it’s the changing political landscape of Ireland (‘Blow Up’ was written before Ireland’s abortion referendum passed), or the dream-like visuals of memories almost lost (‘Libra’), her solemn voice navigates the whirlwind. All of the lyrics of the record are the result of free-writing exercises, allowing for unfiltered access to Frances’ subconscious concerns. Heartbreak, growth and uncertainty abound, but never detract from a distinct sense of wonder and hope.
‘Take me to the land of no junction’ she sings on the album’s final track, ‘Where the roads can never cross / But go their own way’. Frances thrives in that liminal place, the expansive arms of crossroads that stretch infinitely in all directions, the enduring condition of youth. The image is one of juxtapositions; an isolated crowd, a lonely generation, that it’s okay to be going nowhere at all, as long as you keep going.
Published on 23 January 2020
Andrea Cleary is a freelance music and culture writer based in Dublin.