Sinead O’Brien – ‘Time Bend and Break the Bower’ review: noir-punk poetry with a dancey edge

The Irish punk-poet's debut keeps it tight with a mix of Sprechgesang allure and dancefloor-filling grooves

Dance,Sinead O’Brien simply commands in disco stomper ‘Like Culture’. Taken from a poem she first drafted at 17, the poignant ode to joining your friends on the dancefloor feels as relevant today as it did when the Irish punk-poet initially put pen to paper. This desire to get up and move is a much welcome release, but is nothing new for O’Brien and her long-time collaborators Julian Hanson and Oscar Robertson. O’Brien’s focus has always been on strong lyricism and the triad of movement: sonic, visual and physical. But ‘Time Bend and Break the Bower’ grasps onto something bigger and better, with a stronger sense of spite and power, mixed with an onslaught of noir-punk groove.

Bookended with tight prose backed with minimalistic instrumentalism, there’s a constant reminder that O’Brien’s voice maps this record. Even when Hanson and Robertson add their mark, they fit perfectly within the peaks and troughs built within the vocal spits. ‘End of Days’ sees Hanson’s crescendoing strums erupt in total harmony with O’Brien’s outburst of “My heart is breaking open”. ‘Holy Country’ is in a similar vein: one of the busiest on the album, snare swills and electronic bashes anchor the intense narrative based around her native Ireland where “the giants of time are turning tunes”.


As they move through each track, it’s a seamless practice of give and take that emphasises how tight the trio have become. We’re met with anthropomorphism meets tessellating tech-rock (‘Spare My Size, Me’) and taut string arrangements transcending into heavy-handed hooks and hostile lyricism (‘Multitudes’). And even when the tempo eases up, nothing is lost: ‘The Rarest Kind’’s broody proto-punk facade has an air of The Velvet Underground. Guitar strums fill the holes left by O’Brien’s unpunctuated flows, while her vocals flutter away from her typical Sprechgesang (spoken singing) and verge on the melodic tones of an early Patti Smith, before returning for a hard-hitting Trainspotting-style mantra: “Word hard / choose fast / make it last and don’t waste / time”.

Murmurs of ‘You have seen nothing yet” turn into passionate scorns on six-minute-long desert-rock single ‘Girlkind’. Though inspired by the endless waiting felt during the moving statues phenomenon in ‘80s Ireland, where religious statues reportedly moved spontaneously, there’s no anticipation for a holy punk apparition here. Everything we could have expected with ‘Time Bends and Break the Bower’ has been delivered.


Sinead O'Brien

  • Release date: June 10
  • Record label: Chess Club

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