Aofie Nessa Frances
Support : Ora Cogan
Tuesday, 01 November 2022
She took her time there, looking for signs in the ancient woodland and the moonlike landscapes of the Burren of County Clare, seeking answers in nature and memory. “My writing practice became a sacred ritual for me. I found so much solace in spending time alone. In using music as a way to heal and get to know myself better.” “During the day I would drive around these country backroads with my sisters, and I had one CD in my car: Jim Sullivan’s UFO. We listened to it over and over again as we drove back and forth to the coast to throw ourselves into the Atlantic Ocean.”
Protector, released this autumn via Partisan Records, presents a thrilling emotional and sonic landscape, Frances’ powerful voice lighting a path through intricate arrangements and psychedelic flourishes that feel somehow familiar and yet entirely new. While Protector exists in the same aesthetic space as her critically-acclaimed 2020 debut Land Of No Junction, the vision here is more refined, her growing confidence as a songwriter easily apparent, and with each twist and turn, more details surface, carrying the music to new heights.
Suitably, Protector was informed by a vivid dream, one that Frances’ mother had during her writing process. In it, Aoife stood at the foot of a huge mountain with an Alsatian by her side, a companion to protect her along the path she’d chosen. That image stayed with her – feeling a protector's presence accompanying her during this period of transformation. The album became about exploring themes of unconditional love, universal pain, friendship, protection, upheaval, and allowing yourself to move forward while honoring what is left behind.
In a small house in County Kerry, at the foothills of Annascaul, Frances (vocals, guitar, keys) and her trusted collaborators Brendan Jenkinson (producer, keys, bass, synth, clarinet) and Brendan Doherty (drums) began recording. “We woke up early everyday and swam at Inch Beach before making music. This process informed those days. There was a magic happening between the three of us when we recorded those songs.” The arrangements later grew with contributions from Ailbhe Nic Oiroictaigh (strings), Meabh McKenna (harp), and Conor O’Brien (horns). Regarding her vocals, Aoife says: “I wanted my voice to be as up front and dry as possible, to create a sense of raw and powerful vulnerability, like Serge Gainsburg’s ’Histoire de Melody Nelson’ where the voice feels right in front of you.”
Across eight songs, Frances finds new ways of illuminating these sentiments and healing experiences. “Emptiness Follows” carries a striking sense of grace, the playfulness of the track’s instrumentation juxtaposed by her beguiling voice as she sings about friendships drifting apart (“the weight of the water, it holds you and tortures time away from you”). “Soft Lines” moves between feeling both weightless and brooding, the shimmer of the musical backdrop like a lowly settled fog obscuring one’s way, Frances singing of idealized love as projection and illusion (“All that I’d give for a life by your side”). At the core of the album's concerns is “Chariot,” a powerful testament to the strength and bonds of family and friendships which can be found in experiences of dislocation.
Through these captivating songs we see small flecks of the album’s musical influences—from Broadcast and Amen Dunes to Patti Smith, Radiohead and Alice Coltrane. Ultimately, though, they are entirely Frances’ own.
With Protector, she delivers a glowing act of restoration. Informed by universal pain as well as the power of connection, these songs find their magic away from city streets, listening instead to the hum of life that reverberates through the natural world. They trap glimpses of light and then crystallize them into new modes of being.
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