Skinty Fia - Fontaines D.C.

Fontaines write longingly of home on Skinty Fia while truly arriving on the international stage with their most accomplished work yet.

Having evolved over the course of the past five years from hometown heroes to international headliners, the third record from Fontaines D.C. finds the band thoughtfully contemplating their Irish identity and the residual guilt that haunts the Dublin quintet for leaving home to embark on their current path to glory. It’s a journey that has been building to this exact point over the past four years, with the band’s third album hitting a lot of the sweet spots from 2019’s Dogrel and its 2020 sequel A Hero’s Death, but with more refined touches and songcraft. Skinty Fia (an old Irish phrase translating to ‘’the damnation of the deer’’) ties itself up with heavy themes of doubt, loss and disconnection but Fontaines have never sounded more assured of themselves as these ten tracks showcase a growth and maturity across the band, not only thematically but musically to boot.

The dark atmospherics introduced on A Hero’s Death are retained from the off as immediately evidenced on stirring opening hymn ‘In ár gCroíthe go deo’, but just as quickly fans of Dogrel are sure to be enraptured by the Interpol-esque hook of ‘Big Shot’, another early standout which wields Carlos O Connell and Conor Curley’s penchant for striking guitar lines with a vengeance.

In much the same mould as ‘Boys In The Better Land’, ‘Liberty Belle’ or ‘Big’ from the band’s debut, Skinty Fia highlights ‘Roman Holiday’ and ‘Big Shot’ are the kind of tracks which will no doubt form the basis of the shows in sold out arenas and across main stages that Fontaines are soon to inhabit as they finally embark on an extended world tour that has been disrupted repeatedly since 2020, marking yet another massive step forward in the band’s trajectory as they continue their international emergence post pandemic. Despite a sweeping set of opening tracks, it’s the mid to late section of Skinty Fia where Fontaines shine as never before. Through career best singles duo ‘Jackie Down The Line’ and ‘I Love You’ as well as the aforementioned ‘Roman Holiday’, Skinty Fia fleshes out the foundations of Fontaines signature sound (Chatten’s spitalong vocal hooks paired with 70s punk come post-punk riffs and a hypnotic 80s indebted rhythm section subtly manned by Conor Deegan and Tom Coll) while developing a richer instrumental palette and sharper production values, unveiling itself as the natural culmination of an evolutionary trio of albums. Lyrically, Grian Chatten is a revelation throughout. The frontman makes a major statement on his third outing, ascending to new heights with a level of romanticism and poetry only hinted at previously, and never more ably demonstrated than on ‘The Couple Across The Way’. Accompanied by a lone accordion, Chatten is at his most earnest and affecting on one of the best songs of the band’s young career as the 27 year old gently ponders love old and new on a beautiful ballad that sees Fontaines leaning into their traditional Irish roots in a meaningful way for the first time. There aren’t exactly any straight up misfires throughout these forty five minutes, but perhaps a couple of slogging takes that could have been left on the cutting room floor. Centerpiece ‘Bloomsday’ is a dreary encounter that slows down an otherwise cracking midsection, while ‘How Cold Love Is’ commits the cardinal Fontaines sin of building itself around a repetitive Chatten mantra that doesn’t really go anywhere (see ‘Love Is The Main Thing’ for more on this).

Skinty Fia saves one of its best for last however, as closer ‘Nabakov’ finds Chatten & co attempting one of their most ambitious compositions with an epic outro that somehow finds a blurry line between Joy Division and classic U2 as the band pay worthy homage to two shadows that will always loom large in the face of Fontaines for very different reasons. It's a supremely fitting way to end a definitive chapter in the Dubliners story. This feels like what Fontaines have been striving toward since day one, a bewitching mix of the maudlin melodies and murky poetry that informed classic eighties post-punk with the dirty garage riffs and rockstar swagger of bands like Oasis and The Strokes that defined before and after the turn of the century.

Fontaines descended from each of these eras in equal measure, and with Skinty Fia they move a step closer towards not just holding a torch to their idols but keeping a fire burning in their place.

8.0 / B+

Best Tracks: 'In ár gCroíthe go deo'/'Jackie Down The Line'/'Roman Holiday'/'The Couple Across The Way'/'I Love You'

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