By Mags Blackburn
When I first met In The Willows at Indiependence they had been together less than a year but had already released an EP, Long Time Listener. Fast forward four years, one EP Vantage Point, a lineup change and the six-piece from Waterford/Dublin finally release their debut album Before Everybody Disappears.
The eleven track release covers the last four years featuring tracks from both preceding EP’s and you can hear the progression in the bands song writing throughout. In The Willows have a signature sound that involves the use of traditional Irish music crossed with Indie-folk vibes. They also make great use of instrumentation; it looks like all of them all multi-instrumentalists, ranging from violin, guitar, piano, glockenspiel and harmaphone.
On the opening track ‘Wake Me if I’m Asleep’ Tara Heffernan’s voice is lilting on this uplifting and up tempo opening track. For ‘Time of Year’ the violin introduces the mystical, Irish traditional music element that is central to the groups sound. A wistful song of love that just didn’t work out. I know the band are big fans of The Frames and this take on them is much softer and hopeful. Tara Heffernan joins in response and is saccharine and sorrowful in contrast to Dave Greene’s lyrics of hope. We also get a taste of the harmonies the band are capable of as Niall Cusack comes in as bass on the refrain.
On ‘Trying’ Dave opens the track but it’s not long before Tara joins and their two voices meld together. For a song that is heartbreaking in its lyricism it is bittersweet in its musicality resulting in a song that is devastating to the emotions of the listener. Towards the end, or coda as I like to think of it, the band bring in a new element as they did on ‘Time of Year’, with more instruments and voices filling the sound as Tara and Dave go into canon.
‘Vantage Point’ is the title track of the band’s second EP and you can hear the progression made by the band between the two. Here Dave leads with layered vocals. It is also a departure from previous tracks as it picks up pace, a song about resilience and determination not to give up. With ‘Sirens’ it is almost as if the title track was leading up to this as it’s much more upbeat than previous tracks. Dave may be on lead but Tara is there to answer him before leading into the hook which is all Tara and sweetness. The xylophone is a brightening touch to this track, which while still featuring violin is far more indie in tone to preceding tracks with a summery/festival vibe to it. ‘You are // you are the brightest star’.
On ‘Cage’ we have a repeating guitar riff with piano, violin, and beat machine filling out the sound as the two vocalists weave their tale. The message seems to be reflected in the music as it sends you spiralling upwards. ‘Rowing Boats’ was the first single off the Vantage Point EP and their first released with Tara Heffernan as lead singer. Its upbeat and the refrain is something you can imagine grabbing the attention of an audience as an anthem at a festival or gig.
‘Instant History’ is original to this album. As I was listening trying to pick out the instruments I focused in on the lyrics and realised the music perfectly matched the sense of confusion and loss felt by the singer. ‘Le Danse’, another new track has a typically traditional Irish music feel to it. It speaks of living abroad, the promise of an exciting life where the singer asks his girl to come with him. Expect to hear this sung around bonfires and pub snugs. ‘London’ is a dreamy wind-down. It’s a farewell and we can imagine this is one way that ‘Le Danse’ could have concluded. Tara’s voice is heartbreakingly sweet on this one. Careful now, it packs an emotional punch. The last track ‘It’s Over’ it is intimate track featuring just Tara and piano. “Once we are alone I’ll tell you everything you need to know”. It’s a searching, contemplative track; the power ballad needed to finish off this impressive outing.
The album is currently available for pre-order on iTunes and released September 12th with a string of dates across the country joined by Hawk.