Ireland’s For Those I love is essentially the work of David Balfe and is dedicated to the memory of a close friend who died suddenly in 2018. The grief seeps through the album and haunts every refrain while travelling at high speed velocity on a electronic dance floor.
Given Balfe’s previous history in punk band Burnt Out, the album is a huge change in direction – a poetic delivery over the lightest of instrumentation that edges toward a soul/EDM mix. ‘For Those I Love’ is in a sense a concept album that celebrates the life of Balfe’s bandmate and friend Paul Curran while mourning his passing.
Following Curran’s tragic death, Balfe locked himself away in his home studio for months, ultimately recording over 76 songs that would eventually be condensed down to form the basis of his debut album. The album is a house constructed on loss with rooms that are inhabited by the ghost of the departed and haunted by a deeply personal grief and loss. It is a stunning and beautiful debut album that is rent with anger and grief while holding a flickering light of hope and survival.
While there are connections in the lyrical spoken delivery to bands like Fontaines D.C., the instrumentation forges a different path with melodic backing vocals and an EDM pace that is layered, complex and nuanced. There are hints of techno, dubstep, ambient echoes and even a soul flavour at times.
Balfe does not restrain his natural Irish brogue – there is a real veracity and sense of expression throughout and such a visceral sense of emotion that creates a closeness and a sense of intimacy.
Opening track – ‘I Have Love’ – is an explicit rendition of undying love for a person and the memories associated with the relationship. The spoken words are interspersed with recordings of conversations – one imagines poignantly from real interactions – and a melodic refrain. The naked emotion is quite unsettling and yet there is a redemptive element of the eternal memories that remain.
‘You Stayed/To Live’ continues this path with a sense of defiance against an ambient, techno base that pops and sparkles under Balfe’s memories of recordings and time spent in the past.
Ambient recordings introduce ‘To Have You’, again capturing elements of the past, giving them eternal life through the music with distorted melodic singing giving a haunting, unsettling atmosphere. The poetry declares the deeply personal nature of grief that is hard for anyone outside to ever really understand.
Here and there, pure anger and frustration burst through – ‘Top Scheme’ is an excoriating attack on poverty and the frustrations of youth and growing up – I feel guilty cos I got out – Again there is a juxtaposition between the dark themes and the bouncing upbeat electronic sounds that gurgle below. See the powerful video below:
‘The Myth/I Don’t’ reflects the ways the youth survive and cope with this life over a glitchy, jittery background that is unnerving and disjointed.
The sampled vocals of ‘The Shape Of You’ form a melodic bedrock while the theme returns to a sense of family and survival – underlying the redemptive undercurrent that flows in spite of the some of the darker corners explored.
‘Birthday/Pain’ has a stunning video and a chorus that wraps around Balfe’s spoken word exposition – raw, visceral and blunt. The second half moves to a heartbreaking exit with real life recordings of laughter while the vocals repeat I can’t face the pain.
‘You Live/No One Like You’, the penultimate track, again revives themes of the permanence of memories as a source of comfort – the way those you have love and lost live in the minutiae of everyday existence.
This stunning and affecting album ends with ‘Leave Me Not Love’ that incorporates the lyrics from the opening track but with the repeating message that this love is a love that never fades. This is an uplifting exit – again underlying the redemptive and permanent nature of love that exists beyond the corporeal and the transience of life. Hints of horns in the distance and a bubbling, sparkling instrumentation leave an indelible memory that carries the inherent sense of hope. Absolutely beautiful.
Feature Photograph: Faolán Carey