Recently in Australia for two interstate shows to promote their debut album, Saint Sister (Morgan MacIntyre and Gemma Doherty) formed 2014, after having sung with the Trinity Orchestra at Trinity College in Dublin. While their early releases the singles Tin Man / Corpses and the title track from the Madrid EP (all three included for the latecomers) displayed a style evolving out of mixing traditional Irish and 60s folk their music is now moving towards an atmospheric electronica that they themselves are calling “atmosfolk”, a term first used by co-producer and musical collaborator Alex Ryan.
Lyrically there the songs are concerned with young love and loss leaning more towards melancholy than positivity and the vocal melodies and instrumentation soundtrack this appropriately. Supposedly the album is cyclical, thematically charting the journey of a relationship from beginning through breakdown and failure including endings and new beginnings.
The fittingly titled The Beginning is a wash of harp and synths but the music and lyrical content of Twin Peaks brings the proceedings down to earth with the gradual layered vocals and pulsing beats reflecting a pop sensibility. The metronomic Tin Man is melancholic and moody with repetitive interweaving vocals and a relatively simple instrumental backing. While You Never Call is instrumentally uplifting there are contrasting downbeat lyrics with reverb-heavy choral-like vocals.
For Saint Sister, the vocals are the core around which everything else is formed and although there are infrequent exceptions overall there is nursery rhyme quality to the lyrics in their timelessness. Besides a subtle synth hum, Tir Eile is practically acapella with a middle section that is a nod to the synth folk of Clannad of which Enya was a former member, another potential musical reference. Corpses leads out of Tir Eile as though the previous song was an extended intro and returns albeit gradually to a more pop sound especially in the chorus. Steady seems out of place with a lean towards the experimental and the introduction of samples and found sounds in contrast to the folk and ethereal Celtic sound that came earlier. The spoken word additions by Kevin Breathnach from his forthcoming novel Tunnel Vision on this and the otherwise instrumental title track interlude are unwelcome distractions. The folktronica of the penultimate Half Awake builds to a faux orchestral sound before leading into The Mater which closes the album like a sparse country song or a lullaby to or for adults ending in loose harp strumming sounding like church bells ringing. There is a slight pause or break between these final songs as though there was some consideration that perhaps The Mater could have one of those unlisted hidden tracks that are occasionally found on albums.
This self-released album is Saint Sister still finding themselves musically and although they have great potential, it may have been better released as two separate musically themed EPs while they took some more time to gestate and develop so that their debut album could have had a more cohesive feel.
Album Review by Jason Leigh