There are moments on For Those I Love’s self-titled debut album that feel painfully, almost ruthlessly, private. Listening in feels almost intrusive, with songwriter David Balfe’s scattered thoughts moving from class dynamics to mental health to friendship, an explicit, shockingly honest cavalcade of insight and desire. Yet at no point can you turn away – ugly and beautiful in equal measure, it’s a release daring in its technical skill and gripping in its lyrical execution. It’s a project that doesn’t just feel important on its songwriting merits; indeed, For Those I Love’s debut album has more in common with the cultural ruptures that propelled Trainspotting or Our Friends In The North than his contemporaries in Irish music.
But the music is the thing. His lyrics continually return to these reference points, with Mount Kimbie and Mike Skinner entering his creative landscape. Indeed, For Those I Love perhaps sits between these two poles: the immersive, skeletal, post-dubstep possibilities of the Warp duo, combined with the working class poetry of The Streets.
‘I Have A Love’ is the voice of determination, the sound of an artist physically pushing against the barriers in their way. It finds release on ‘You Stayed / To Live’, with the rave electronics referencing everything from half-step rhythms to the fluorescent synths of left-field techno. It’s worth noting the continual role that club culture has within Balfe’s work – he’s both an active participant and a commentator, at once absorbed and removed. He echoes the rave nostalgia that permeates the work of everyone from Burial to Jamie xx; his music is marked by a sense of loss, the pain of being removed from the redemptive space that rave can offer, surrendering to the imprisonment of stubborn reality.
For all its sonic beauty, every note on ‘To Have You’ feels like a teardrop. ‘Top Scheme’ acts as a stark contrast, its unbridled rage laying open the economic wounds of a post-crash Ireland, David Balfe’s perfectly executed poetry eclipsed by a growing rage at the situation a generation of young people have been left in.
‘The Myth / I Don’t’ offers a moment of respite, before ‘The Shape Of You’ pushes the listener back down an emotional rollercoaster. At times, it feels as though nothing is stable, the cavalcade of distorted samples and piano notes clinging to memory and loss for dear life; “ I deserve the make it through these traumas…”
Unrelenting in its honesty, For Those I Love’s debut album refuses to surrender to the darkness. ‘Birthday / The Pain’ is sonically one of the lightest moments on the record, the sugar-sweet house elements adding bright colours to his palette. Lyrically, though, it’s both an encapsulation and a critique of the desire for escapism. His poetry is brutal and unrelenting, the moments of light all the more intense for the surrounding darkness.
A nine-track song cycle, David Balfe’s debut album ends with ‘Leave Me Not Love’, his voice echoing the very first lyrics on the project. Coming full circle, he finds much has been learned but nothing has changed; the system hasn’t altered, but then he hasn’t either. It’s a story of survival, a project remarkable in its completeness. ‘For Those I Love’ is a truly exquisite achievement in which the redemptive hope that love and friendship provide is never allowed to sink beneath the waters.
Words: Robin Murray
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