After equivocating between summer and fall for the past few weeks, autumn weather has finally descended on D.C. As Colin Nissan puts it, “there’s a nip in the air and my house is full of mutant f*ing squash.” Decorative gourds and plaid shirts aside, I love this season because I get to listen to new releases. October got off to a good start with Kodaline’s debut album.
Since the release of “In A Perfect World” (June in Europe, October in North America), Kodaline has been dazzling crowds on both sides of the pond. I first encountered their music last spring when they opened for The Airborne Toxic Event at the 9:30 Club. At the end of the set, frontman Steve Garrigan humbly thanked the audience for listening “even though you’ve never heard of us.” Well lads, for those of us who didn’t know you then, we certainly know you and love your music now.
While the critics have not been as enthusiastic as the fans, my philosophy on album reviews goes something like this: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. . . . [But] in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” (Yes, I’m quoting from “Ratatouille” — because it’s brilliant.)
The Dublin-based quartet displays a versatility in their first album and an ability to craft hook after hook that the critics ought to pay closer attention to before dismissing the band’s music as mundane, post-Bono/Chris Martin alt-rock.
For example, the folk-tinged “Love Like This” opens with harmonica and mandolin and includes lovely “ooh-ooh-ooh” harmonies, broken by a spoken aside that Steve tosses off in a rakish manner, the ghost of a smile lifting the corners of his lips: “I know that love like this won’t last forever / But I, I don’t really mind, I don’t really mind at all.” I love the hush at 3:03 when the instruments drop out and Steve’s a capella delivery captures the loneliness described in the preceding verse: “It grows dark but you don’t mind / Hiding in the back streets, yeah, you’ll never notice me.” Then the full acoustic accompaniment rejoins to propel us onward to the end of the song.
“Love Like This” is perfect for fall, when my relationship with the weather is sort of like the fling described in the song. The gorgeous colors and scents of autumn will inevitably be displaced by winter, but I don’t mind that this lovely weather is only temporary. What we have is now, and as Steve has remarked about this song, “it’s kind of about relationships [that are] not really going anywhere, but you just go with it anyway.”
Winter’s gloom will descend soon, but the promise of spring’s regeneration keeps us going — and to me, that’s the theme of “High Hopes” — to “let it go, go out and start again.”
In contrast to “Love Like This,” “High Hopes” starts softly, with keyboard and contemplative lyrics. A few verses later, Vinny’s simple, sparse percussion comes in, followed by Mark and Jay’s guitars. The song crescendos to the chorus, when Steve throws his head back to let loose powerful, soaring notes: “High hopes, ooohhh when it all comes to an end / But the world keeps spinning around.” “High Hopes” starts out steeped in melancholia but finds its way to a quiet conviction that the world goes on and we can start anew. After just one listen, the song feels familiar and I lose myself in its warmth. Maybe it’s my musical equivalent of a blanket on cold nights. (Here’s a live rendition from Jammin’ Java.)
Kodaline returned to the District earlier this month in their first headlining tour in North America, and played a sold-out show at Jammin’ Java. On top of being talented, the foursome are good-natured, too — laughing when Steve had to re-start “Love Like This,” getting the audience to snap their fingers along to an acoustic cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me,” and sticking around after the show to sign posters and pose for pics.
Many bands start within a zone of comfort and wait for the sophomore album to begin expanding their musical range. Kodaline seems to have arrived on the scene fully mature and confident in their sound — and for very good reason.
It’s possible that my love of Kodaline’s music will be a one-album fling. But I have a feeling that love like this just might last forever.
Read my interview with Steve and Jay here.