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In 2017, we had a spate of talented female solo artists come to the fore – Ailbhe Reddy, Loah and Katie Laffan to name a few. But the one that stamped her presence on the Irish music scene in the form of an album was Marlene Enright. She hails from Bantry in Cork and crafts indie folk with a tinge of Americana. Enright was a member of the critically acclaimed band The Hard Ground; as a co-vocalist for the quintet. Along with Pat Carey, Davie Ryan and Hugh Dillon, she was a key part of the band who crafted a number of eclectic releases – most recently the crowd-funded Triptych in 2015 – a three-EP collected work. The Hard Ground occasionally leaned towards traditional music and also sometimes had a splash of cabaret.
But Enright has given herself the spotlight and the results are impressive. Placemats and Second Cuts, named after a lyric on the closer, is a worthy contender for this year’s Choice Music Prize. Enright has the perspicacity to let off a vintage glow in her music that isn’t cliché. She does so in a refined manner. Although the self-released Placemats and Second Cuts is a relatively straight-forward indie-folk record, it feels instantly timeless. Enright’s irresistible, bittersweet radiance quickly resonates well on the opener ‘Alchemy’ with its sad guitar motif. This album has moody undercurrents in a gentle, swaying manner.
Instrumentally, the LP is a joy to behold. There is often gorgeous interplay between the guitars and bass. The tracks sometimes build to cracking crescendos and are sometimes tenderly skeletal. ‘Bay Tree’ is a mixture of Americana and baroque pop as Enright sings hazy harmonies over gentle tintinnabulations and bass. Elsewhere ‘Little Things’ ends with a coda with the repetition of a phrase tangled in shredded surf guitar. She uses the same trick on ‘Home’ which is a deftly executed reprise of the earlier number ‘Shiny’. The epic ‘We Were in Trouble’ clocks in at almost seven minutes and is interjected by theatrical, brassy thuds. Enright’s music can be playful or mellow or both.
She cherrypicks her influences well – sounding faintly like a wide array of artists but never just one. There is a hint of Lana Del Rey on here but without the soppy insincerity. Furthermore, you can hear tinctures of Joanna Newsom, Angel Olsen and Marissa Nadler. Overall, Enright is a retro songstress – you can imagine her softly expelling her voice through a ’50s mic. She blends these influences with her nostalgic throughput to create a fresh product.
But as well as this lush production, singing and instrumentation there is a warm, melancholic sentiment. It may be hard to pin down a consistent theme or message on Placemats and Second Cuts but there sure are some memorable lines. On ‘Bay Tree’, Enright is evidently in an introspective mood pondering about her lover – “would you stand there and wait in the rain?”. Later on, she sings about a “kind of sadness that opens up her arms and takes you in”. That line partly depicts the album which has a palpable affability about it. A personal favourite is “all of the colours of the rainbow will surely desert me”. It’s a sense of gloominess but within the context of the potentiality of beauty. There are further references to colour like when Enright sings “I see the world in blue” on the very personal ‘Shiny’.
While Placemats and Second Cuts may be one of the lesser known albums of the Choice Music Prize shortlist, it would be a commendable victor. It is stylish, emotional and deeply listenable.