Class of ’20: The Best Irish Releases

I think we’re all glad to see the end of that year. We don’t want to talk too much about the stress and uncertainty it incited, I’m sure we can all agree that we don’t need to be grimmed out any further.

Toilet paper may have been in short supply, but great Irish music certainly was not. Irish music holds its own in the worldwide debate at the best of times, but this year especially we were treated to some of the finest from, arguably, the last decade.

Well, you didn’t click the link to hear us dragging on about it. Enjoy the very best of Irish music from a year that we would rather soon forget. The music lives on. Forever.

24. Fears – tonnta

Last year Fears, aka Constance Keane, founded a new record label alongside friend Emily Kendrick. The imprint is run by women and non-binary people with a focus on supporting underrepresented voices in music; tonnta marks the labels first release.

Describing the relationship between the artist and her late grandmother; Fears explores the experience in caring for and loving someone who has dementia, the connection that deepens and the role reversal as the cared for becomes the carer.

The only single release to make it into our list, tonnta’s intimate tones and spectral vocals make for an enchanting, cherished experience.

23. Spireview – Limbo

We have said this many times, but there is no one in Ireland making music like Spireview. His blend of auto-tuned emotionality, indie aesthetics and a seemingly endless pool of influences means that you’re never quite sure where he’s going to take it next. This level of intrigue and excitement is rare in an industry where everything can begin to sound the same.

Limbo explores themes of individualism and mental health across indie-electronic and future R&B melodies. Accompanied by a killer remix from close friend Miley – who also is sitting on some incredible music – it makes for one our favourite projects to come out of the North. Be sure to keep tabs on both artists in the coming year.

Standout track: Limbo (Miley Remix)

22. Deathbed Convert – Debris of Echos [Touch Sensitive Records]

Connor Dougan returned to Belfast based label Touch Sensitive Records with a 9-track solo album in May; inciting feelings of hope, anxiety and private contemplation.

An album rooted in soltitude, Debris of Echos is a deeply personal and profound journey through an artists connection to home. From boundless shades of green to the ancestry of our past, the record is inspired by the places that shape our thoughts at a time we felt it most.

Standout track: Labyrinths

21. R.kitt – Ripples From The Edge [Night Tides]

Robbie has a way of making music that can spark moments of introspection right there on the dancefloor, yet effortlessly blends a hands-in-the-air energy with a tears in the club mentality.

Ripples From The Edge was released on Eluize’s Night Tides label back in March; five forward-gazing cuts laced with uplifting synths, cascasing arps and bounding drums – perfectly balanced to keep the floor in motion and our minds afloat.

Standout track: Machine Damhsa

20. Kobina – Lifts Me

Maybe it’s the type of year we’ve had, but there’s no doubt we’ve found ourselves more than ever attached to music that transcends the dance-floor; the type of music that could be listened to anywhere, whether at home or on a park bench gazing at the stars.

Kobina has always had a knack for attaching themes to his music and giving it depth through a cinematic lens and the artists self-released compilation Lifts Me has been a personal soundtrack to days gone by; transforming even the most mundane task into a cosmic walk around the block.

Lifts Me is a beautiful and uplifting exploration of dreamy soundscapes, our natural world and the complexity that surrounds us all.

Standout track: Live in D5

19. Jordan Nocturne – Believe [Loose Fit Records]

Jordan channels cosmic-acid energy in his last original EP on Berlin based Loose Fit Records. Title track ‘Believe’ is a club-focused cut full of personality and colour, created for those special moments on the dance-floor; while Late Night Ten features dusty breaks, laced with a wiggly acid lead, and includes a hypnotic remix from one of our Irish favourites in Bobby Analog.

Although released just as restrictions were coming into place – Jordan channels the mood of a dark basement club in all it’s sweaty glory. Don’t worry we’ll be there soon…

Standout track: Late Nine Ten

18. Dreamcycles – Future Lights and Archetypes [Queeste]

Irish-Canadian artist Jennifer Moore channels profound-thought in the spellbinding conceptual album Future Lights and Archetypes.

A deeply immersive and sobering journey through the “landscape of a future global economy”, Jennifer imagines a world governed by data to judge its citizens’ worth, exploited for labour and wealth, endlessly moving through a dystopia we now call home.

Each track feels like peering through a window catching a glimpse of our future selves as the world continues to fold in on itself. The artistry throughout the six-tracks is hauntingly beautiful; fragments of the past intertwine with futuristic soundscapes and truths – absorbing our thoughts completely.

It’s an album that feels more prevalent now more than ever, and one we won’t soon forget.

Standout track: Playing with the Concrete

17. Cartin – Gunman [Extended Play]

Irish mainstay Extended Play released arguably their strongest debut to date last year with a 4-track EP brimming with colour and raw energy from Derry based artist Cartin.

Title track Gunman is a festival-ready banger which feels destined to unite party goers when normality can return. The young producer’s prowess really shines through on the percussive lead Conga Wonga. Coupled with its roaming arrangement and UK funky energy – it’s a rush to the head and a much needed dose of pure escapism.

Standout track: Conga Wonga

16. Kessler – Amazonia [Born Sleepy]

Rotterdam via Belfast producer Kessler was one of the most prolific Irish artists of last year, racking up four EP releases and four single/remixes spanning electro, techno, jungle and breaks laced in a UK aesthetic.

Amazonia – arriving on Optmst headed Born Sleepy – explores flora-soaked worlds through blissful and bright liquid drum & bass, whilst ‘Mozam’ ventures into murkier territories through lairy, bass driven 2-step. They’re both absolutely huge and a sign of great things to come from both artist and label.

Standout track: Mozam

15. Fio Fa – Rescue Squad [Duality Trax]

Pear co-founder Fio Fa is known for his deep and energetic club tracks that really capture the essence of great dance music and what it should mean: fun.

Arriving as the genesis release on Holly Lester’s Duality Trax label; Rescue Squad serves up four different yet distinctive cuts of progressive, party-fuelled micro-techno, 90’s rave inspired broken beat and downtempo trip hop, plus a killer twinkling soundscape remix from naïve label head Violet.

Standout track: Rescue Squad

14. Ozwald – Prey [Flood]

Dublin based producer Ozwald dropped his Pray EP back in April on Flood and it truly blew our minds. Weighted production and big drum energy are the basis of all four tracks as raunchy basslines and intricate layers project the nastiest screw faces we’ve ever pulled. 

13. Murli – Til The Wheels Fall Off

The second Limerick resident appearing in our compilation; Murli has been quietly putting his mark on Irish music for the last five years as part of the Choice Music Prize winning Rusangano Family and a string of wonderful individual projects.

Til The Wheels Falls Off illustrates grime, hip hop and footwork influence through an oxymoronic sense of control and looseness. A master of the craft, Murli flows through the record with lyrical finesse and importance; tackling issues of racism whilst refusing to conform to current contemporary trends and crafting a lane that is entirely his own.

Standout track: The Culture

12. Tension – In Cascade [Flood]

The hard drum scene that Flood have been championing in Cork is something that we have been following with great interest. The antithesis of everything that was happening in the city, Tension and crew have been flying the flag for the hard club aesthetic with a string of great releases from Ozwald, Ovid and more.

In Cascade is the debut full length from the Flood co-founder and acts as an “auditory narrative that chronicles its creators’ formative experiences in the world of underground electronic music circles both at home in Ireland and abroad.”

Let’s get one thing straight: this is not simply a hard drum record. There are moments of light and dark; deep moments of anxiety, hopefulness and euphoria. It’s a beautifully rounded album; exploring ambient, IDM-influenced broken techno and post-tribal energy all uniting under the Flood aesthetic.

Standout track: First Flight

11. Citrus Fresh – Operating System [PX Music]

We interviewed PX Music family member Citrus Fresh and chatted all about his album just prior to the release, and it certainly lived up to expectations. A conceptual piece; the album plays out from the perspective of a PX Music studio computer with each track acting as a new file being processed on the system.

The Limerick wordsmith was heavily inspired by King Krule and The Beatles in making the record as he aimed to create a cinematic body of work. Detailing mental health woes, drug culture and intimate contemplation across jazz instrumentation from fellow collective members Danny Lanham and 40hurtz, Citrus Fresh has created one of the standout Irish hip hop records of last year. Big up the Limerick crew.

Standout track: Methadone

10. The Cyclist – Weather Underground

Has The Cyclist ever released a bad record? If he has, we haven’t heard it. Weather Underground picks up where his previous two records – Beat At The Heart Of The City and Alabaster Thrones – on LA based label 100% Silk left off.

The tape throbs heard on ‘Alabaster Thrones’ make a comeback across six distinctive cuts of basement dub, indie-influenced club and bass-driven hypnosis – each more spellbinding than the last. The records bio beautifully encapsulates the tense and disturbed year that we have all experienced, providing a fitting foreground for The Cyclist’s freshest work.

“Rhythms of release and resistance, bodies in motion on the edge of the storm, coiled to strike for futures too unthinkable to lose.”

Standout track: Weather Underground

9. Biig Piig – Oh No / Liahar

Cork artist Biig Piig’s work maintains a rough around the edges, intimate aesthetic. Although electronic-pop and R&B by sonic description, the singers work is just as influenced by the awkward and shy melodies of old blues records and dreamy minimalism.

Across two tracks, Jess Smyth channels the energy often found from the subtle silence that arrives so suddenly after chaos. Speaking about Oh No, the artist says: “the safest place to be was my room – when I get paranoid or anxious or upset, hiding away felt like the easiest thing to do.

Liahr sees the artist turning her focus to a lack of trust in herself in recent relationships; running into things headfirst and falling out of them as quickly as she entered. It’s one of Biig Piig’s best tracks to date as she sings, “truth be told never spent time on my own, my God doesn’t like me, not at all”, across heart-wrenching melodies and scattered breaks.

Standout track: Liahr

8. Denise Chaila Go Bravely

What a year it has been for Irish-Zambian MC Denise Chaila. From a performance on The Late Late Show to the release of her first body of work since 2019’s two-tracker Duel Citizenship, she has shone as one of Ireland’s most exciting breakthrough artists with a trajectory that is only getting higher and higher.

Go Bravely is described by the artist as a “series of sonic” polaroids; detailing struggles with identity, racism and expression through intellectual declarations, precise wordplay and articulated faith. Her flow exuberates a refuse-to-lie-down energy like that of transatlantic artist Noname and frequent collaborter Murli provides the perfect score of instrumentals that capture the differing cultures and experiences that inform Chaila’s work.

The record is a huge statement of intent from an artist that is going to make rather large waves this year.

Standout track: CHAILA

7. God Knows – Who’s Asking? [High Fly Society]

Also a member of the Choice Music Prize winning band Rusangano Family alongside fellow MC Murli, God Knows has been flying the flag for forward thinking, conscious hip hop that is only getting bigger and bigger thanks to the swell and growth of the genre in Ireland right now.

“Who’s Asking is a direct answer to the questions I’m asked all the time about Irish rap”, says the Zimbabwean-Irish artist. “Can you expand on that slightly please? I believe in my county; I believe in my country. Irish music has always punched above its weight on the world stage and put its own stamp on popular music – why should rap and hip hop be any different?

Featuring grimey production from Fly High Society co-founder SertOne and something of a West Coast cypher on a title tikik;l;l,     rack remix (featuring Denise Chaila and PX Music members Gavin Da Vinci, Citrus Fresh, Hazey Haze and Strange Boy), God Knows is breaking down cultural, racial and geographical boundaries as he continues to push the limits of his work further and further.

Standout track: Who’s Asking?

6. New Members – Deep In The Night [Pear]

Donabate producer New Members has quickly become one of our favourite producers with his blend of ethereal, peak time rave anthems. Dublin based label Pear always supply the goods. We didn’t think anything could top George Ernest’s A Dreaming Island back in 2018, but New Members Deep In The Night might just take it.

Three cuts of trancey deepness, rolling euphoria and otherworldly hardcore make for a record you’re going to be hearing a lot when the clubs open.

Standout track: Deep In The Night

5. BriénDIY Vol. 1 [Soft Boy Records]

The first of two Softboy’s to entire our list; Brien has quietly been building repute as one of Ireland’s most talented producers and multi-instrumentalists.

Sample-led 70’s jazz, sunshine-drenched trip hop and odes to Bangor kebab shops (shout out to Piccolos) see the artist lend his voice to his work for the first time on a record, and it works beautifully. We believe a comment on Bandcamp best sums it up: “This album is like a combination of driving a convertible with the roof down on a sunny day, the underwater level of a videogame and sitting inside of a yellow lava lamp.” Can’t really argue with that.

Standout track: Sundried

4. Son Zept – B [RESIST]

Son Zept exploded onto the electronic scene in 2018 with the release of the Q2B EP on Belfast based experimental label RESIST, and his follow up earlier this year – A­ – exploring electronic genre de-construction, power ambient, IDM and post-club aesthetics in the process.

Composing for a PhD, and exploring the divide between ‘academic music’ and electronic music at the Sonic Arts Research Centre (SARC) at Queens University; Son Zept has been uniting the two, creating a meeting point between trance induced flashbacks, rave inspired memories and the ideology behind it all.

B is the second part of the producers mini-album trilogy and it’s his finest work to date. Deconstructed hardcore, minimalism, blissed out techno and more sub-genres than you can shake a stick at conjure images of the post-club world we may see and hear when the pandemic ends. We certainly hope we’ll be seeing a lot more of Son Zept when it does.

Standout track: Trophy Run

3. Gemma Dunleavy – Up De Flats

Dublin pop-queen Gemma Dunleavy has been on our radar for quite some time thanks to her wonderful features on a string of forward-thinking Murlo cuts and solo A Capella’s.

On Up De Flats the singer turns in her finest work to date: floating seamlessly through intimate local thoughts, nosatlia-fuelled R&B and pop-tinged UKG that is screaming to be played out whilst the sun splits the trees. With this ode to her Sherriff Street community Gemma has crafted a truly beautiful body of work. We can’t wait to see what’s next.

Standout track: Up De Flats

2. Gaptoof – Looks Like Rain [Soft Boy Records]

Our second inclusion from Soft Boy Records and one of the best records we’ve ever heard come out of Ireland; Looks Like Rain shows Dublin beatsmith Gaptoof flex his creative muscles across dusty and experimental boom bap beats alongside a string of wonderful features from Kofi Stone, Mimikat, Yenkee, Celia Tab and fellow Soft boys Kean Kavanagh and Kojaque. Every track passes the test of individualism with the producer mutually matching each guest’s energy and inspiration.

Gaptoof’s production is emotional, nostalgic and always distinctive. We’re earmarking the producer to have a huge 2021.

Standout track: Dean Street ft Kean Kavanagh

  1. Sputnik One – Kerosene [First Second Label]

What a year it has been for Sputnik One. The Dublin producer launched his record label – Woozy – alongside fellow bass enthusiast EMA and has been behind some of the most intriguing and forward thinking sounds to come out of Ireland for quite some time.

Linking up with First Second label – an imprint that is behind some of our favourite Irish releases – is a match made in heaven. Across four cuts Sputnik One explore glitchy, broken techno, low end mutations and futuristic UK funky energy that we cannot wait to hear on a big system.

Don’t just take our word for it; Parris and Ben UFO amongst others have regularly praised this record, with Parris particularly earmarking it as his record of the year. A producer destined for great things; Kerosene takes the crown for our Irish release of the year.

Standout track: Smart Lung

5th January 2021