Album Review: Fontaines D.C.’s ‘Skinty Fia’ is an adventurous musical expansion of their musical horizons.


Feature Photograph: Filmawi

The Breakdown

Musically, 'Skinty Fia' avoids some of the more vicious, visceral instrumentation and jagged edges of Fontaines D.C.'s first two studio albums, while Chattan's urgent poetic beauty remains a defining element. This is a natural progression in a way, and this an album that has had the virtues of time and maturity to gestate and blossom more than its predecessors.
Partisan Records 9.0

From the outset, in their third studio album ‘Skinty Fia’, Fontaines D.C. have expanded their musical palette: creating something that gently veers away from their first two album with an exploration of different sounds – adventurous at times, more pop and accessible at other times. ‘Skinty Fia’ is an Irish phrase which translates to English as ‘the damnation of the deer’ which is used to display disappointment or annoyance – phrase which resonated with singer Grian Chatten as the correct expression of his feelings towards the ‘mutation’ of Irish culture abroad.

Now based in London, these themes resonate throughout the album: a feeling of alienation and disenchantment, tempered by a sense of optimism and growth. ‘Skinty Fia’ is indeed a palimpsest for the band’s experiences with a greater warmth than the preceding two albums yet a greater sense of vulnerability that comes from knowledge and experience.

‘Skinty Fia’ could almost be seen as an attempt to reboot the band, in a way: to introduce new colours and textures. The opening track is a case in point: ‘In ár gCroíthe go deoa’ has monk-like chanting above an single insistent bass note. The result is something exultant and spiritual, Chatten’s voice utilising his trademark repetition to augment the mantra as the instrumentation slowly builds. This captures that specific element about the band: their ability to mesmerise and hypnotise with circular movements that ebb and flow, with Chatten a preacher exhorting the listeners with his laconic and beautiful poetry.

‘Big Shot’ is a brooding piece of dark indie pop touched with a gothic brush while ‘How Cold Love Is’ is an atmospheric jangling track that incorporated the band’s wandering rhythmic style that carries Chattan’s sardonic vocals.

‘Jackie Down The Line’ continues with Fontaines D.C.’s astute observational style, mixing a sense of melancholy with defiance, a poetic vision that captures the minutiae and vicissitudes of mundane existence and imbues it with a sparkle and shimmer. A Bass VI rumble provides a deep and sinuous line under the splashing guitars and the repetitive, hypnotic delivery is enthralling.

What good is happiness to me
if I’ve to wield it carefully?
For care I’ll always come up short
It’s only right

The video is both languid and enigmatic, befitting the band itself.

‘Bloomsday’ continues Chattan’s bleak and poetic literary and social observations threaded by sky-scraping guitars that form an ominous and dark presence:

Saw the city hall
In flames
I suppose it doesn’t do as much these days
You put on your coat
And smile
Saddest one I’ve seen for a country mile
Brought it down the road
Quicksmart
There’s always fuckin’ rain and it’s always dark
When you were at the gate
Soaked through
Let’s not say a word if it isn’t true

‘Roman Holiday’ is a jangling piece of pure indie pop: a far more reflective side of the band with singer Grian Chatten channeling his melodic pop genes while maintaining a lyrical expressionism that is stark and beautiful:

Baby come on get your high heels on
It’s the body is cold
It’s the course is run
What artless living all this soft pain thrills
What calamities usher all our brilliance to the hills!
Can you feel it?

The song coasts with a restless forward motion with elements of psychedelia wafting in and out, perfectly captured by the video clip with the band driving in a car – bleary eyed, animated and relaxed at the same time:

‘The Couple Across The Way’ reintroduces the bare, folkloric Fontaines D.C. with its simple organ instrumentation and nursery rhyme patterns. The lyrics are stark and moving:

Across the way moved in a pair with passion in its prime
Maybe they look through to us and hope that’s them in time

‘Skinty Fia’, the title track, is a visceral take down of hypocrisy and the distortion of truth:

Does you really don’t know where the avenuers go
Are you lying through your teeth or are they paying through your nose
A set of manners and a smile is all they want you for
But we can talk about it later
You can read it in the paper

Chatten’s trademark sardonic observational delivery simmers above a cauldron of expansive raw instrumentation snaking its way underneath, creating something that is cinematic and bold. The accompanying video, directed by Hugh Mulhern, sees an enigmatic Chattan walking unseen through a bacchanalian party: the colours are indulgent and rich with a hint of pagan mystery:

Penultimate track, ‘I Love You’, is an extraordinary tale of light and shade. The most eye moistening romanticism of some stanzas is balanced by Chatten at his most excoriating – mixing declarations of pure love with the horrors of the world with its hypocrisy:

Selling genocide and half-cut pride I understand
I had to be there from the start I had to be the fucking man
It was a clamber of a life I sucked the ring off every hand
had ‘em plying me with drink I even met with their demands
And I loved ye like a penny loves the pocket of a priest
And I’ll love you till the grass around my gravestone is deceased
And I’m heading for the cokeys I will tell them ‘bout it all

Final track ‘Nabalov’ is a shoegaze dreamy track, layers of sound create something more developed and nuanced than before.

Musically, ‘Skinty Fia’ avoids some of the more vicious, visceral instrumentation and jagged edges of Fontaines D.C.’s first two studio albums, while Chattan’s urgent poetic beauty remains a defining element. This is a natural progression in a way, and this an album that has had the virtues of time and maturity to gestate and blossom more than its predecessors. Ultimately, Fontaines D.C. have created a magnificent trilogy charting their rise from the brashness and belligerence of the debut ‘Dogrel’ to this, the more refined and world weary ‘Skinty Fia’.

‘Skinty Fia’ is out on Friday, 22 April 2022 and can be pre-ordered here.

Previous Premiere: We get a sneaky early listen to Nik Brinkman's 'Unplugged' EP - three magnificently raw gems from last year's epic 'Secret Stairs' album.
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