Credit: Fiona Garden for NME
by Fred Barrett Music Obscure Object

Fontaines D.C. — Skinty Fia

May 16, 2022

A deeply personal record of disillusionment and quiet rage, Skinty Fia is easily Fontaines D.C.’s most adventurous work yet.

The 2010s brought with them an international post-punk renaissance which spawned a plethora of noteworthy acts such as German punk poets Messer, English dada-druggies Fat White Family, and American end times-chroniclers Protomartyr. In terms of critical and commercial success, however, few of those groups have reached the heights of Irish outfit Fontaines D.C. Hailing from their country’s capital, the band hit the ground running at the tail end of the decade with their extraordinary debut Dogrel, boasting a musical and lyrical maturity often reserved for musicians in their middle period. Dogrel told stories of gentrification, love, and heartbreak in Dublin, and the quintet’s approach was poetic, romantic, working class, and proudly Irish, referencing Gaelic slang and James Joyce’s literary modernism on songs like “Boys in the Better Land” and the mysterious “Television Screens”. When their expansive follow-up, A Hero’s Death, came out the next year, they were catapulted into the big leagues, the album receiving nominations at the Brit Awards, the Choice Music Prize, and even the Grammys, where they were up for Best Rock Album (notably not Best Alternative Music Album, the realm of Björk, Radiohead, and Coldplay).

On their third record, Skinty Fia, Fontaines D.C. further flex their songwriting muscles, branching out into shades of basement trip hop on the album’s title track, shanty-traditionalism on the accordion-led ballad “The Couple Across the Way,” and tense atmospherics on haunting opener “In ár gCroíthe go deo.” It’s easily their most musically adventurous release yet — no small feat considering their heterogenous body of work — but even with some of the more experimental flourishes, their musical DNA remains very much intact. Skinty Fia continues the band’s exploration of life under crushing, globalized modernity, manifesting a reluctant and thoughtful sneer that stands in stark contrast to the scuzzy black humor of Viagra Boys or the didactic sloganeering of IDLES. Lead singer Grian Chatten’s characteristic drawl laments urban decay, youth suicide, and the suppression of Irish identity by the British, sung from the perspective of young Dubliners who, for the sake of their careers, have left their city behind for London. The band members are in two minds about the move: “It’s difficult to stay in touch with Irish culture while you’re not there,” says drummer Tom Coll in an interview with the NME. “You grapple with guilt because you want to make the country better while you’re away.”

That tension is palpable on the band’s latest offering: the spectral chants that accompany the LP’s opening track, quote the epitaph of deceased Irishwoman Margaret Keane, whose family’s request to have the Gaelic phrase “In ár gCroithe go deo” engraved on her tombstone was originally denied by the Church of England for fear that it could be taken as “political.” After three years of intense campaigning, the church finally reversed their decision in 2021. On “I Love You,” a rich charlatan (“the man who profits“) declares his phony love for Ireland and its youth in the choruses, while Chatten articulates his disdain for the direction the country has taken — as well as the sins that stain its past — in two stream-of-consciousness diatribes against the country’s regime in politics, industry, and the Catholic Church. It’s an untangling of complicated feelings and issues both historic and contemporary, rife with vivid, macabre imagery, such as when the singer describes Ireland as an island “run by sharks with children’s bones stuck in their jaws” — a grim reference to the unearthing of the remains of almost 800 babies on the grounds of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home.

Disillusionment, insecurity, and quiet rage run through Skinty Fia‘s veins, the band grappling with life in an increasingly harsh and impossible-to-understand era, whether it be corrupt politicians, greedy priests, or noisy neighbors that inspire reflections on the future of the world or the longevity of young love. Fontaines D.C. speaks to the moment in a profoundly personal way, refusing to pander to their audience and instead pushing further outward to create what is their most introspective, diverse, and beautiful effort to date.

Published as part of Album Roundup — April 2022 | Part 1.