Traditional Irish Music
The first time I heard the new album from This is How We Fly, I jumped on Facebook to proclaim, “if you want to know what Irish traditional music will sound like in 50 years, you should listen to This is How We Fly.” It was a bold claim, but I stand by what I said and still believe fully that this supergroup of young musicians is making music now that will change how we see Irish traditions down the line. Just as Lunasa ushered in the era of mellifluous low whistle driven Irish trad with complex arrangements in the early 2000s, or Mairead Ni Dhomhnaill and Triona Ni Dhomhnaill defined Irish music in the late 80s and early 90s with their use of synths and harpsichords, what we’re hearing now from This Is How We Fly, and especially key contributor Caoimhin O Raghllaigh will stamp the early 2010s with a specific sound. That sound is driven by O Raghallaigh’s fiddling, and more specifically by the way he creates tune compositions that are fractured into hypnotic, trance-like loops. It’s a sound that could easily have been inspired by hip-hop sampling, and in some ways it’s anathema to the tradition itself, with its near religious reliance on the heavily regulated 32-bar tune structure. But O Raghallaigh seems to be searching for something deeper. He understands the tradition better than anyone else right now, having already cut albums that are so deeply in tune with the old traditions that sound radically out of step with today’s Irish trad. So in some ways he’s a throwback; an echo of earlier sounds from the tradition. But with This Is How We Fly, he’s able to reform the traditions he loves, almost like a potter working in wet clay.
This Is How We Fly brings together fiddler Caoimhin O Raghallaigh with the stunning American stepdance Nic Gareiss, Swedish percussionist Petter Berndalen, and Irish clarinetist and composer Seán Mac Erlaine. Together O Raghallaigh and Ma Erlaine craft the melody and the harmony, with O Raghallaigh’s hardanger fiddle providing the looping melodies, few of which conform to the standard structure, but all of which are gorgeous and memorable, while Mac Erlaine weaves in and around these loops, providing counterpoint, harmony, dissonance, or unison playing as he feels the music. It’s improvisational, I would imagine, but sounds like it’s crafted with great thought and reflection. Mac Erlaine is a wonderful composer and he brings a lot to the arrangements of the music. Like O Raghallaigh he understands the tradition inside and out–he’s previously worked with the complex and difficult Irish slow air repertoire, bringing that into a jazz idiom–so his improvisations and remixes of the music carry much more weight than another who might only be dabbling in the tradition.
Behind the melody, percussionist Berndalen builds the beats that spin the music along. His percussion on mostly acoustic instruments meshes wonderfully with the stepdancing of Gareiss. If you’ve never heard Gareiss before, he’s one of the most beautifully eloquent stepdancers alive. He’s studied Irish sean-nos stepdancing, as well as American stepdance traditions, and he’s built a personal style of stepdancing that’s intimately tied to the music. He’s so in tune here that every brush of the foot on a sandy floor brings a sound of organic beauty to the music, as the rhythm of his feet blends with Berndalen’s percussion.
This Is How We Fly’s album is a thing of great beauty and an incredibly hopeful look forward to the future of Irish traditional music.
Best of 2013: This Is How We Fly
Dublin & Dingle, Ireland; Stockholm, Sweden; Mount Pleasant, Michigan
by Devon Leger
This album review first appeared in KITHFOLK, the new quarterly digital roots music magazine from Hearth Music. Check out Issue #1, Winter 2014 HERE. Issue highlights include exclusive interviews with Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré, Smithsonian Folkways artist Elizabeth Mitchell, New Orleans roots activists Rising Appalachia and anarcho-folk legends Blackbird Raum. Lots of album reviews and streamable audio. Beautiful original graphic design throughout.
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