Fontaines D.C. 'A Hero's Death' | The best indie rock album of 2020
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
A raw, occasionally bleak, Post-Punk second album which furthers the Dublin band's Indie Rock saviour status. Here's a guide to their growing success and the key moments on their new record.
You can listen to the album in full on YouTube and Spotify.
Discovering Fontaines D.C.
I stumbled upon Fontaines D.C. last year purely by chance. Scouring through the line up of a summer festival I’d committed to attending, there was a desperate need to salvage the disappointing line up.
For reasons unknown, one band name immediately drew my attention; Fontaines D.C. In the next thought, I almost wrote them off. They were playing the earliest time slot possible, how good can they really be?
I reluctantly typed their name into YouTube and gave the top search entry, ‘Boys In The Better Land’ a listen.
And how glad I am that I did. It opened with repetitive chords, the bass and drums then suddenly exploding the song into life. By the time the singing started, I was hooked.
It was a Post-Punk banger. A thick Irish speak-sing voice performed the vocals and it was that rawness that brought an immediate appealing. Their poetic lyrics, punchy vocals and an anthemic, yet gritty, rock sound, demanded attention to a noughties indie kid. Maybe rock n' roll wasn't dead after all.
The following day my love-affair with their debut Dogrel began. It was an infectious journey from start to finish, tracks like ‘Hurricane Laughter’, ‘Dublin City Sky’, ’Too Real’, and ‘Liberty Belle’ drawing comparisons IDLES, Shame, The Fall and The Pogues, all the while sounding completely unique and fresh.
Ireland has produced some brilliant bands over the years, but no one sounded quite like this (sorry, Bono…).
The saviours of rock n’roll?
In the blaring sunshine of a Glaswegian July Saturday afternoon, I raced through security of the TRNSMT festival and arrived just in time (with beer in hand) to watch the Dublin band start their set.
The buzz had spread and upon arrival I was greeted by a sea of Irish Tricolours and topless lads ready for the impending moshpit. Before long, the band entered the stage and the crowd welcomed them like a lost family member.
Wasting little time, Fontaines D.C. battered into their performance, a wall of noise enough for one’s neck hair to rapidly rise. Frontman Grian Chatten paced up and down the stage, simultaneously possessing an effortless coolness.
It was 50 minutes of loud rock n'roll, justifying the hype, the bodies which surrounded the stage were reduced to a sweaty mess. Despite being tired, broken and sunburnt, it was with great sadness it had come to it’s finale. But fear not, Indie hero status had been confirmed in a truly momentous performance.
In 2019, the band had grown in popularity over a sharp period of time. Their debut Dogrel was released on 12 April 2019, immediately lauded as one of the records of the year. It was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize 2019 and found acclaim on 6Music, Radio 1 and many other British Indie publications.
Soon their brand of poetic, raw rock n’ roll caught the attention of America, before long playing to a tv audience of millions on Jimmy Kimmel Live. The band were now the talk of Indie Rock circles around the world and they endlessly toured the album in pursuit of world domination.
The new album; in the running for a hero’s death
Just over a year since their debut, Fontaines D.C. are back with their second album, A Hero’s Death, sounding nothing like what anyone had expected. It was recorded in Los Angeles only a few months after the release of Dogrel. The two albums couldn't be more different.
Now, you’d have thought all this success and critical acclaim would’ve brought a band together in unifying glory, celebrating the impact their music had had across the globe. But this isn’t a band with the unquestionable confidence of Oasis we’re talking about.
They say success can often make things difficult for a young band. This is usually down to the inflated ego’s and the problems that money can do to strain relationships. For Fontaines D.C., it was the strain of touring and the feeling of being flaunted like a commodity. Many of these themes are addressed on the new album.
The key moments on 'A Hero's Death'
I Don't Belong
A Hero’s Death starts with the moody ‘I Don’t Belong’, a song defeated and bleak in it’s outlook, a stark comparison when compared to the band’s opener on their previous album, 'Big'.
Last year, ’Big’ had aspirations of grandeur. Grian channeled his inner Liam Gallagher by declaring that, ‘Dublin in the rain is mine’ and ‘my childhood small, but I’m gonna be big!’. 12 months later and it’s a different story altogether.
With comparisons to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, the chorus repeats the line ‘I don’t belong to anyone/ I don’t wanna belong to anyone’. The shimmering guitars provide a haunting feel and a few listens in you're hooked. An anthem for a rainy day.
I still remember hearing ‘Televised Mind’ for the first time back in June, feeling blown away on first listen.
Its rough hypnotic sound provided a real eerie atmosphere to the track. Grian sounds like a man possessed as he chants ‘that’s a televised mind’, the droning guitars and heavy drums combining perfectly.
It’s a song about people using echo chambers to get approval for their own opinions, inspired by both The Prodigy and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. What a mood. One listen simply wasn’t enough.
A Lucid Dream
The highlight of the new album is the third track ‘A Lucid Dream’, a future live classic. The build up gets the head rocking before Grian’s sneering vocals kick in.
Over a wall of noise, not too dissimilar to last year’s ‘Hurricane Laughter’ or ‘Too Real’, Grian’s opening vocals come at you like a punch in the face, ’I was there / when the rain changed direction / and fled to play tricks with your hair’.
It’s a song about the dream-like state the band have been in over the last year and feeling of discontentment that this has brought. First listen to the album and it immediately sprung out as a favourite.
On the following track, the band express their weariness on ‘You Said’. The raw vocals beautifully express Grian’s loneliness and detachment; ‘You said / you been on the brink, so slow down / don’t try and think now’.
The sulky guitars and slower drumbeat offer a midpoint breather, conveying the vibe of the record perfectly.
A Hero's Death
‘A Hero’s Death’, the title track on the album and first single released back in May. It’s grim sound contrasts with the repetitive opening 'positive' mantra of ‘Life ain’t always empty’. Inspired by The Beach Boys, the supporting vocal harmonies add a lot of character to the song.
On first listen, the repetition of lyrics on the track made for lazy songwriting, but a couple of listens later it sounded impactful. The following verse flows brilliantly and are amongst the most memorable on the album:
Don’t get stuck in the past /
Say your favourite things at mass /
Tell your mother that you love her /
And go out of your way for others /
Beneath a light that suits ya /
And look forward to a brighter future
Oh Such a Spring
‘Oh Such a Spring’ is the sweetest and most melancholic on the record. There’s a pretty riff - somewhere between ‘Everybody Hurts' and 'Nothing Else Matters’ - setting a tone of regret and a yearning for previous days.
A slow burner perhaps, but one that allows the band to show their versatility.
The album's finale: I Was Not Born & No
The frustration of the band is further shown in the Frightened Rabbit foot-stomping inspired ‘I Was Not Born’, Grian protesting, “I was not born / into this world / to do another man’s bidding’.
The album ends on ‘No’. It’s a more subdued track to the rest but it’s all about the vocal performance from Grian. There's even shades of 'All I Want Is You' by U2 in the supporting guitar (albeit, darker!).
The emotion really comes through as he repeats the lines ‘Even though you don’t know / Even you though you don’t / You feel’. With emphasis firmly placed on the word 'feel', the album's impact is left to linger.
What’s the verdict?
The upbeat first person stories and the references to Dublin have been replaced with tales of isolation and detachment thanks to the heavy burden of success.
Over the 11 tracks, Fontaines D.C. demonstrate how the hectic nature of success, touring and expectations have been a heavy burden to bear.
In 1994, Radiohead bemoaned this on ‘My Iron Lung’, following the fame afforded to them by ‘Creep’ and Fontaines D.C. have followed suit with a darker second album.
If the band was ecstatic at their new life would they really be able to write such a brilliant substance filled rock n’ roll music? I suppose their pain is our gain!
‘Is it too real for ya?’ is a question asked on the third track of Dogrel and it's one especially relevant over this 46 minute record. It’s rawness, grimness and realness may put people off, but for those who have caught the Fontaines D.C. bug, this new album furthers their claim as the best new band around. Great effort lads, again.