Don’t let the ‘y’ in his name lead you to be expecting sassy Swedish electro -pop. Robyn G Sheils is a singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland who deals in classic - and classically bleak - alt-country. His first LP was called “A Lifetime of Midnights” and the EP released on No Dancing is called “The Great Depression”. This is a very different kind of ‘dancing on my own’, one that involves shooting men and starting on evil young, death wishes and crosses to bear, cruel thoughts and counting the cost of mistakes. The five sombre tracks on “The Great Depression” remind me of Richmond Fontaine or The Felice Brothers at their most sparse. But rather than spinning heavily detailed yarns about characters and specific locations, Sheils goes for the universal: deceit, hard-luck and blame all passing between unnamed protagonists.
Early songs on the EP start are delivered by a full band, with a rosy warmth and recorded live feel to the spritely brushed drums, sparing piano and gently rising horns on lead track ‘When We Were Brothers’. As the EP progresses the instrumentation is stripped away so the final two songs are simply acoustic guitar and voice plus quivering bowed saw on ‘Hell Is...’ and gorgeous female vocals intertwining with Sheils’ own voice on ‘The Latest Greatest Comedienne’.
There is a weary creak and brittle confidence to Shiels’ voice that makes these songs ring with authenticity and bitter experience. If the subject matter sounds grim, then the intimacy of Shiels’ richly timbered, lean-close-into-your-ear tones make it a joy to lose yourself in its warm melancholy. With songs this strong, I’m not sure why I hadn’t come across Shiels before. It would be a shame (but not a surprise) if this was because of the parochialism of an English-centric music industry and media. As Shiels shows on this fine EP, this is music too good to be overlooked for petty reasons of geography.
When We Were Brothers - Robyn G Shiels
Robyn G Shiels The Great Depression [BUY]