Fontaines D.C.: 10 Essential Tracks

Dublin quintet Fontaines D.C. became one of the most notable rock acts of the 2010’s with barely any time left in the decade. Their 2019 debut Dogrel was the equivalent of shooting a three-pointer from way downtown with two seconds on the clock.

That’s likely the last time you’ll see the band’s artful post-punk paralleled with anything meant for stadiums, or anything like what fellow countrymen U2 perfected some decades prior. Fontaines D.C.’s style exists now in a seedier underbelly –  troubled by The Troubles, mule-kicking out of a one-horse town, and not changing their approach to fit the mould of any great expectations.

Such defiance was present in their second studio album, A Hero’s Death, dropping a year after the release of Dogrel. Fully vaccinated against any trace of ‘second album syndrome’, the band expanded their horizons and continued to experiment with their approach, incorporating krautrock, big-beat and traditional folk balladry in the process. Here’s a brief but vital overview of the realest band out of Dublin City. For some listeners, maybe even too real.

1. ‘Too Real’, Dogrel (2019)

Speaking of, it seems prudent to start on one of the band’s highest octane numbers. Like ‘We Are the Champions’ and ‘1979’ before it, ‘Too Real’ has been subjected to the rollercoaster meme treatment – and the whole thing just clicks with that context in mind. Using those song as an introductory point to the band is baptism by fire – every member is pushed beyond their limits to visceral extremes. Drummer Tom Coll pounds and rackets across vocalist Grian Chatten’s heavily-accented diatribe, undercut and then overtaken by knife-edge guitars. It’s here, it’s now, and it’s incredibly real. Get on board.

2. ‘Big’, Dogrel (2019)

‘Big’ is a song that is simultaneously antithetical and entirely reflective of its title. It’s short – in fact at a 1:45 it’s the shortest song Fontaines have released. Don’t mistake this brevity, however, for any lack of density. This song goes beyond packing a proverbial punch – it’s an entire barroom brawl, with Chatten asserting dominance over his beloved city. Churning bass, clattering drums, and rumbling guitar work ensure ‘Big’ makes a lasting impression. It’s a song about outliving your hometown, and in the same breath burning it to the ground.

3. ‘Televised Mind’, A Hero’s Death (2020)

When Fontaines were first making noise, the most common genre-label bandied about for the band was post-punk. It made perfect sense circa-Dogrel, after all it was all we had to go off. What if, however, Dogrel was a punk record – and A Hero’s Death was the real post-punk record? Churning bass, Madchester big-beat drums, and the surf-nightmare baritone guitar on ‘Televised Mind’ is night and day stood next to the band’s earlier, more conventional singles. It’s evolution, simply: primordial, powerful, progressive tension.

4. ‘A Hero’s Death’, A Hero’s Death (2020)

You know how ‘Lust For Life’ starts with that smash of drums, and you know shit’s about to kick-off? That exact feeling lands when the title track of A Hero’s Death begins. As the first taste of the album and the first song the band released post-Dogrel, it was imperative that the Dubliners got everything right. Fontaines’ sonic momentum kept the ball in play, and built on their established sound through adaption and evolution It’s darker, meaner, and tougher, but still resolving to maintain the fighting spirit established by its predecessor.

5. ‘Boys in the Better Land’, Dogrel (2019)

It’s fitting that this song about escaping the quiet-life, small-town, every day feeling ultimately served as Fontaines D.C.’s ticket to the wider world. This is what got them on Late Night; this is what got them a slot at Glastonbury. If you heard of the band in that period, it likely had something to do with the success of this very song. And looking back, can you think otherwise? Listen to that slicing guitar! That procession of drums! Listen to the tambourine! It’s one of the most vital rock songs to ever come from Ireland. Where’s the better land, anyway? Simple: anywhere but here.

6. ‘I Was Not Born’, A Hero’s Death (2020)

“Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests/I’ll dig with it.” The late Seamus Heaney, one of Ireland’s greatest poets, closed his poem ‘Digging’ by defiantly claiming his work as equal to that of a labourer. It’s an assertion of self and of place, which Fontaines’ Chatten (a poet in his own right) reflects on in ‘I Was Not Born’. The Hero’s Death deep-cut refuses the enticing world of “another man’s bidding” atop insistent major chords and a rummaging rhythm section. Chatten and co. continue to dig of their own accord, and this deviation from the norm carries Heaney’s legacy with it.

7. ‘Dublin City Sky’, Dogrel (2019)

As clear as the titular horizon overseeing them, this is Fontaines’ tribute to The Pogues. This song wouldn’t exist without the legacy of Shane Macgowan’s folk-punk vehicle – and the closing number of Dogrel is a debt paid in full to that band, with interest. From Chatten’s painterly turns of phrases (“In the foggy dew/I saw her throwing shapes around”), to the band’s masterfully-understated arrangement, this may stand as the band’s most underrated moment. For a group that thrives on boisterous rock, it’s nothing short of stunning seeing them take on the arrangement on show here.

8. ‘I Don’t Belong’, A Hero’s Death (2020)

“Dublin in the rain is mine,” prophesied Grian Chatten at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed debut album. What a difference a year makes then – “I don’t want to belong to anyone,” he prophesies at the beginning of his band’s acclaimed second album. A new man, fronting a new band. Methodical, refined, steely in focus. Slow to build and burning brighter. Once standing on the shoulders of giants and by 2020 giants themselves, together, they roam this barren, empty land. ‘I Don’t Belong’ is a new beginning and a turning tide.

9. ‘Sunny’, A Hero’s Death (2020)

To round out a trilogy of Fontaines’ quieter moments, ‘Sunny’ is one of the more textured and mesmerising tracks in their catalogue. Consider it a lost Beach Boys classic in the spirit of ‘Don’t Worry Baby,’ but driven through the Irish countryside and subsequently warping the seven-inch vinyl in the process. It’s the sound of an endless summer being pulled to a close with a fade to black, reverberating across a sea of da-da-da’s and torn pages of Oscar Wilde books. Chatten is lost in a haze of fleeting moments and forgotten memories, grasping for a life just out of reach.

10. ‘Hurricane Laughter’, Dogrel (2019)

In a wash of belligerent Dublin City noise, ‘Hurricane Laughter’ just snarls – whether it’s the guttural rumble of Connor Deegan III’s bass, the siren wail of Conor Curley’s guitar or Chatten’s composed, direct imagery offered from amidst the fray. The drums drop away at the end, leaving the lyrical refrain of, “And there is no connection available” ringing out as a chant. Consider it Fontaines D.C’s own fuck-you. They certainly won’t do what you tell them. Ever.

Has all this inspired you to seek out even more Fontaines D.C. content? We’ve got you covered. Head here to watch the Dubliners play a special one-off performance at their old stomping ground, The Lexington pub in North London, as part of the epic new content series, Jim Beam’s ‘WelcomeSessions’.

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