You can barely believe it's a debut
Cameron Sinclair Harris
11:22 10th June 2022

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It’s a bit of a cliché to call an artist “fully-formed” within the infancy of their career if they impress, but Sinead O’Brien does seem just that. The Irish songwriter/poet carries an intriguing and enticing aura on her debut album Time Bend and Break the Bower; so much so that you barely believe that this is even her debut. Her sprechgesang delivery is backed by minimalistic instrumentation that carries shades of post-punk and krautrock; it’s a crossover that seems well trod, but O’Brien absolutely wins you over. 

On Time Bend and Break the Bower, the lyrics and the music almost feel like two separate entities bound together through sheer force, and the way they collide and intertwine with each other is nothing short of fascinating. An early comparison to make is Kae Tempest, and while both contain the same ingredients, Tempest feels familial, yet O’Brien feels unearthly. “Sky break open, pour it down on me,” she pleads on ‘Salt’, bringing an apocalyptic vision to a cowbell beat. The six-minute album centrepiece ‘GIRLKIND’ continues this, with stream of consciousness writing backed by the sound of a band creating something spontaneous. This gives shades of a poetry book having been given the guitar treatment by a sixth form band, but this is in no way a bad thing. Quite the opposite, it gives the album a charm and spirit unseen by O’Brien’s contemporaries. 

Throughout the album, O’Brien delivers incredible lines such as “the demon with two heads does not know it from itself” on ‘End of Days’ and "the room has absorbed us, eaten our bodies and consumed our minds” on the dancefloor-beckoning of ‘Like Culture’. These words do their job of conjuring up an atmosphere so well, the dirty hedonistic imagery of the latter track is tangible.

Musically, the tracks blend into each other very well; almost too well. It rarely feels like an album with tracks, more like sections of an epic poem, à la The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. That can make it hard to pick highlights and lowlights, however it does ensure the album is at a consistently good level. Despite this, the pastoral stomp of ‘Holy Country’ is an instant standout, O’Brien sounding mystical as she croons about “the secrets of the saints”. And the range of sonic territory is quite impressive; acoustic guitar, disco beats, violins, '80s synths and '00s indie riffs collide to give O’Brien’s words the appropriate backing. 

It may take a while for Time Break and Bend the Bower to properly click, but click it will. It ends on an incredibly strong note, with the giddy optimism of ‘There Are Good Times Coming’ preceding the wistful waltz ‘Multitudes’. “Let me make a song for all the things I look upon”, O’Brien states on the latter, like a mission statement for the album itself. The minimalism in the first half bows out, with a more adventurous, curious second half, and ‘Go Again’ is as close to standard poetry as the album gets, O’Brien’s voice backed by a singular haunting ambient synth.

Whilst it’s hard to go back and immediately listen to it, Time Bend and Break the Bower is an incredibly impressive debut album. Rather than taking it as a collection of songs, it may be best to go into it blind, to experience it as a singular piece of art. And that’s high praise indeed. 

Time Brend and Break the Bower is out now.

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