Ulster man Joshua Burnside came to prominence in 2017 with his Northern Irish Music Prize winning debut album 'Ephrata'. Where that album leaned on Cumbian rhythms, his new album 'Into The Depths Of Hell' takes a different tack; routed in Irish traditional, it is augmented heavily with Americana and experimental folk.
On album opener 'I Saw The Night' Burnside shows his dexterity as a producer, with drums being fed through delay pedals and distortion before a droning synth takes over. His vocals are instantly reminiscent of Jeff Mangum and once the fingerpicked acoustic guitar joins for the outro you get the sense that this album is going to be a real journey.
Behind almost every moment on the album there is ambient foley, field recordings or spoken word samples, they have the immediate effect of modernising his Irish traditional, but add more than just an experimental edge to the album as they help create a dystopian, end-of-the-world premonition. On 'Driving Alone In The City At Night' there are hints of '22, A Million'-era Bon Iver, but a firmly Irish version as he explains a "half pint of Guinness froze into his hand, half-naked and soulless” as a fiddle plays out in the background.
His songwriting is ambitious throughout the album as he tackles the state of the world, but it’s also multi-dimensional and at times candidly personal. This is most beautifully realised on 'Whiskey Whiskey', one of the album’s undoubted highlights, as Burnside explores his fear of flying it is the sort of song that begs to be listened to on repeat, and probably best enjoyed with a glass or two of the good stuff.
A late album highlight comes in the form of the album’s final single “War on Everything”, with its propulsive drums, horn arrangements and electric guitars at turns perfectly restrained then explosive in sublimated anger. The final two tracks cool things down with gentle guitar strums and lilting vocals. Joshua Burnside’s sophomore album is an ambitious, idiosyncratic work from a unique artist that should be treasured.
Words: Nicolas Graves
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