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Sons Of Southern Ulster – Sinners And Lost Souls

Sometimes certain albums deliver such a direct impact that we can’t decipher why or how they’re able to penetrate our emotions, our sheer disbelief at their power, and no amount of playbacks is able to shift this perspective. In many ways – and after several weeks of auditioning this album during what I’m sure we can all agree has been a strange period of enforced lockdown – I simply can’t change the feeling that Sinners And Lost Souls is an album that encapsulates those feelings of isolation, anger and longing. It also packs one hell of a punch.

There is no slow ramp-up, no ‘settling in’ period; this album hits you like a freight train. It’s spiky, punchy, angry and – oh my god – just full of goddamn energy.

Sinners and Lost Souls is Sons of Southern Ulster’s second album, coming four years after their debut Foundry Folk Songs. It’s also their masterpiece. I’m a big fan of the debut. It (re-)awoke my love of leftfield Irish music – bands such as An Incredible Fish, A House and That Petrol Emotion.

‘Fear My Scorn’ kicks things off. It’s a stunning opener. The lyrics describe a bar whose landlord serves watered down spirits and bad pints “to anyone who has a thirst and a coin in their pockets”. The strong lyrical content makes for an enticing listen throughout. Yes, the album is angry and urgent, but it’s also essential storytelling. It’s those lyrics that really invite you in – we’ve all visited places that are less than salubrious or known people who are “bent as a five-bob note”, as the saying goes.

Where their debut received comparisons to early 90’s Dublin band A House, this album sees them spreading much deeper and wider. The sound is spikier, more direct – and the lyrics are pure poetry – in a “tell it exactly like it is” kind of way.

At this point in the review, I’d often look to highlight several tracks to help provide an overall feel of the album – but honestly, this is an album proper. An album for people who love albums. I’ve found myself pressing play, only to reach the end and simply start over. It’s literally impossible to recommend key tracks. It’s fair to say that if you enjoy ‘Fear My Scorn’, you’re going to like this album. Fact.

The album maintains the momentum pretty much throughout, but there are also poignant moments of thoughtfulness when it momentarily drops down a gear, such as during ‘The Fall’ and ‘Ms McDonogh’. Don’t fear, by ‘Terylene Man’, normal vengeance is resumed – with a sound somewhere firmly between Fontaines DC and Arctic Monkeys. Elsewhere, ‘Busaras Boy’ talks of waking up with strangers in cold bedsits.

2020 for most of us has been a bizarre period in our lives. Many people have sadly lost their lives fighting an invisible killer. Families haven’t seen each other for months. Society has changed. Out of America video footage has emerged of police brutality. It makes for dark imagery against which ‘Sinners And Lost Souls’ in many ways mirrors this, but that’s exactly what makes it such a relevant and exciting listen. With lyrics such as “You learn to live with yourself in the morning, you learn not to hate yourself everyday”, these songs truly resonate. That the album ends with arguably its most optimistic moment with ‘Polaris’ is quite prescient. You’d be hard pressed to find a record which better describes the feeling of 2020.

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