Irish folk powerhouse Kíla has come a long way since being formed in Dublin during 1987 by bodhran player and singer Rónán Ó Snodaigh, his multi-instrumentalist brother Rossa and uilleann piper Eoin Dillon. Their collaboration with Shane MacGowan, U2 and the Dubliners amongst others topped the Irish charts and by 2009, the prolific outfit had amassed enough material to warrant a ‘best of’ compilation A couple of years later, they published a book containing more than 100 of their tunes. The band has also composed or featured heavily on several film soundtracks including the acclaimed recent animation Song of the Sea and even provided the score for a West End pantomime. During their almost 30-year journey, Kíla’s number has swelled from the original trio to eight musicians.
Depending on how their releases are tallied, Suas Sios (‘Up Down’ in English) is Kíla’s tenth studio album. This thrilling ride begins with the busy title track, with its pounding beat, wandering punky bassline and mesmerising pipe playing. The song is sung in Irish but its lyrics are about finding courage by assigning troubles to a stone that is thrown into a river to cleanse the mind. Mac Lir is a quieter affair with a hypnotic and repetitive wind instrument arrangement that rings around the ears long after the track has ended. The title means ‘son of the sea’ and often refers to the Irish mythology sea deity Manannán mac Lir.
Simply called Jigs, there follows a whirlwind of pipe and accordion that defies anyone not to feel the urge to dance while things turn towards the melancholic with the calm arpeggios and slow pipes of Rachel Corrie. A tribute to the American peace activist who was killed by an Israeli Defence Forces bulldozer as she attempted to save the home of a Palestinian family, the instrumental builds towards the horrific moment before continuing in the peaceful way that it began.
There’s something of a cultural collision in Abair’s use of eastern sounding mandolin and percussion along with a whistle melody that could have originated in southern Africa’s jazzy kwela style, all joined by sax and pulsing bass. Entirely different is the intriguingly titled Mikar Dypnic’s Transient Nights (In Adult Situations), a brief fiddle and pipe sojourn between two longer, more involved songs, the breezy Length of Space and the more laid back pipe tune Am.
Despite what might be suggested by the name given to reel collection Skinheads, it is a thrilling six and a half minute set, starting with an unhurried flute tune but quickly picking up pace with pipe, whistle, drums and mandolin as the track progresses. Atmospheric Irish blues song Last Mile Home seems to have become something of a standard in Kíla’s repertoire. The song first appeared on the 2006 album Kíla and Oki, an interesting collaborative effort with Japanese folk musician Oki Kano and a version was included on Rónán’s solo album the following year. This revival of the song has a slightly different arrangement and as it asks ‘Who’s gonna walk you the last mile home?’ the last mile of the collection is reached, as Dee Armstrong’s reverberating dulcimer notes and the soft percussion and whistles of Fainne Or an Lae wind the album down to a haunting close.
Retaining the boundless energy of Kíla’s early releases, Suas Sios is a rousing, exhilarating experience that is difficult to hear without involuntarily moving around. The bewildering array of instruments produces a form of Celtic folk with orchestral depth and detail that makes for a listen as fascinating is it is exciting.
Review by: Roy Spencer
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