Black Coats & Bandages
G7 Welcoming Committee
One of my favorite themes from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is Irish national identity. When the protagonist Stephen Dedalus reaches adolescence he begins to actively question the hegemonic structures in place in Ireland. One of the most important issues to Dedalus (and Joyce) is the gradual destruction of the native Irish language and the imposition of the oppressor’s tongue in its stead. For Joyce and his fictional counterpart, being forced to speak foreign words is tantamount to torture. Though Joyce’s story takes place at the dawn of the twentieth century, he would find kindred spirits in Clann Zu and their album, Black Coats & Bandages.
The disc touches on imperialism and subjugation, Catholic theocracy, extreme feelings of isolation and the horrors of post-industrialization. Singer Declan de Barra paints some of the bleakest pictures ever with lines like, “hope is a dirty word that’ll stab you in the back when you offer up your throat” and “…empty your pockets of all the souls you stole/so I piss on your grave from the greatest of unholy heights.” It’s an almost entirely brutal listening experience.
In a turn that would bring a smile to Joyce’s face, de Barra includes two Irish language tracks, “t-ean ban” and “Andeirdredth sceal.” The former even has the distinction of being the album’s only song bursting with positive emotions.
The rest of the band finds its musical voice in the more darkly wrought tones of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Radiohead, traditional celtic music and even early U2. Sonically, the standout track is “There Will Be No Morning Copy,” which starts as a lurching, skeletal minor key arrangement, unfurls through an elegant funeral dirge and blossoms into percussive post-punk. It’s flawless.
It seems that in the minds of both Joyce and Clann Zu, Irish identity is in constant danger of being completely annihilated. While it is a sad fact that many Irish descendants grow up ignorant of their heritage, it’s quite beautiful that a band like Clann Zu can keep the language alive, hopefully inspiring generations down the road to do the same.
G7 Welcoming Committee: www.g7welcomingcommittee.com