Sinead O’Brien – ‘Drowning In Blessings’ EP review: masterful punk poetry just trying to stay afloat

'Drowning In Blessings' plays like a manual for staying sane and driven in a mad world

Movement is key to the music of Sinead O’Brien. Both in terms of the tight, propulsive no-wave music that backs her punk poetry, but also in the very fabric of what she speak-sings of. “Standing still will kill you,” she sings on recent single ‘Roman Ruins’, where she also sings of becoming “fixated on the change”.

“I don’t like the idea of being settled,” London-based O’Brien told NME last year. “I find it very hard to imagine permanence in any way. I always have to find these ways of uprooting myself and disturbing my life path.”

This intoxicating power was first shown on her Speedy Wunderground single ‘Taking On Time’ from 2019, where she ran headfirst through a distracted world with an untamed vision and goal. This focus is furthered on ‘Drowning In Blessings’, an EP collecting four recent singles, and completed by new track ‘Most Modern Painting’.

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The new single is a scything takedown of social media and an always-on culture, which sees her side-eyeing how we’re all “floundering over soft core addictions”. “The conditions for being are changing, who do I address?” she spits powerfully, recalling “conversations at breakfast with images of ourselves”.

‘Fall With Me’ treads a similar path; “You can’t imagine the state that we’re in,” she says incredulously, as if trying to explain life on earth in 2020 to another species and in turn realising herself how ridiculous our reality has become.

Unlike most solo songwriters, O’Brien’s music is built from the ground up with her collaborators, guitarist Julian Hanson and drummer Oscar Robertson. Where some full-band adaptations of solo musicians’ songs purely feel like embellishments of an existing core, the four songs here find the three musicians perfectly in sync with each other. The music rises and falls with O’Brien’s voice as she wanders from verse to verse, as if she’s directing the swell of instruments behind her with her mind, rather than simply fronting a band.

The tracks keep the same loosely improvised feel that the trio’s live show brings, and is surely furthered by the EP’s producer, Dan Carey, whose Speedy Wunderground label thrives on instinct and feeling more than toil and an exhaustive number of takes.

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O’Brien says the new EP is “about spaces, claiming personal space in the city, naming things, bringing them closer,” and – just as she planned – these four songs play out like an instruction manual for finding inspiration and forward motion in a world designed to keep you running in circles.

Details

Sinead O'Brien

Release date: September 16
Release label: Chess Club

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