Tuesday, February 1, 2022

CD Odyssey Disc 1536: Kneecap

In an unlikely turn of events, this is my second album in a row by an Irish band. U2 is from Dublin and this next band is from Belfast. So, two different countries, but not if you were to ask this next band.

Disc 1536 is…. 3CAG

Artist: Kneecap

Year of Release: 2018

What’s up with the Cover? Looks like the band is out for a pleasant walk in the country, smoking some massive blunts and harvesting weed. The weed business must be going well for them, because even their sheep are wearing gold chains.

How I Came To Know It: I read an article on Paste Magazine about the top Irish bands everyone should know. Kneecap intrigued me, and I checked them out.

Finding their album, however, proved impossible. I looked for years in all my usual haunts (record store special order, Bandcamp, even Amazon) without luck. They had very limited web presence elsewhere and nowhere was an album to be found.

I liked this record a lot, though, and remained dogged in my pursuit. Whenever I went on Bandcamp I would search the name and see if anything showed up. This paid off a few months ago when they finally created a Bandcamp account. Not only was this on it, but so were four singles they’d released since. It was only available as digital download, but I bought it and made like it was 2004, burning a CD copy that included the four “bonus” tracks they’d released since.

How It Stacks Up: This is my only Kneecap album. I don’t think they have another one, but either way, for now it does not stack up.

Ratings: 4 stars but almost 5

Kneecap is an Irish rap band that likes to write songs about three things: sex, drugs and…Irish republicanism. If you were expecting “rock and roll” there, this is not the album for you.

However if you dig mad beats that are simultaneously fresh and traditional, that will make your head bob in the car and your body bounce on the dance floor, then this record is for you.

DJ Provai is a revelation. He has the same stripped-down fury of Sleaford Mods’ Andrew Fearn. The beats drop hard and deliberate, but the combination of those simple beats, sneaky good bass lines and samples are musical as hell. He is the hidden weapon on this record, and a huge part of their sound’s success.

On your first couple of listens, you’ll subconsciously be aware of how dope DJ Provai’s compositions are, but you’ll be forgiven for it not being your first thought. That’s because rappers Mo Chara and Moglai Bap are just that good. Yes, they look like a couple of dodgy criminals from some failed eastern European state, but these guys are true artists.

At this point I should point out that I often don’t know what either of them are saying most of the time. Their lyrics are a mix of Gaelic and English, cutting back and forth with cocksure ease. It doesn’t matter, because while a lot of it slips by me, their mastery of rhyme and rhythm are exceptional. The words drop around the beats with precision, and the two vocalists take turns without ever losing momentum.

One of my favourites is “Your Sniffer Dogs are Shite” which details an encounter with some guards (Irish police). Our narrators play both parts of the story, including a frantic spray of incredulity from the kid being questioned, and a dismissive menace from the guard who is sure something is up. The punchline comes in the chorus, a sotto voce whisper of the song’s title.

The “bonus tracks” (or singles I added, if you want to be technical) are every bit as good as the original 2018 release and have a bit more production value as well. This is applied judiciously to give the songs more funk and bounce without getting in the way of the incredible flow. “Get Your Brits Out” has a total club groove. It is that heavy bass techno sound you might hear in a club or on a fashion runway, combined with that break-neck rap delivery that makes this band so great.

While it is all about the bass and the beat, other flourishes are employed here and there with care. A funk hook here, the tinkle of piano there and what I think might be a sample of a penny whistle from a Capercaillie song. If it isn’t, then they’ve got that sound down pat. The ingredients are like a fine plate of pasta: a few simple ingredients, mixed together into something understated but delicious.

I chased this Kneecap record for over three years, and it was worth the wait. This is rap excellence at every level, and for the past six months has become one of the most played records in the house. I think it will remain so for some time to come.

Best tracks: Amoch Anocht, CEARTA, Incognito, Your Sniffer Dogs are Shite, Bouncers. And from the “bonus tracks” section:  Gael Gigolos, Get Your Brits Out

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