“My childhood was small, but I’m gonna be big.” This is how lead singer Grian Chatten introduces himself on Dogrel, Fontaines D.C.’s debut album—and when he proclaims it, ironically or not, you instantly believe him. These rockers from Dublin County (for that’s what the “D.C.” stands for) are sure to make a name for themselves as one of the best post-punk acts to emerge this year.
The aptly named “Big” opens the album. At only 1 minute and 46 seconds, it’s more of an intro than a full track, but don’t expect the band to go easy on you—every moment shakes with life-or-death urgency. Think of it as the overture to a gritty musical, setting the stage for the scenes of sincerity and strife to follow. First comes the pounding percussion; then a snaky bassline slides its way in. The guitars and Chatten’s vocals arrive in rapid succession—a strong double punch. “Dublin in the rain is mine, a pregnant city with a Catholic mind,” Chatten declares, sounding like a modern, Irish Ginsberg. Paul Simonon didn’t do vocals for The Clash often—but when he did, the tension in his voice cut like a knife. Chatten’s voice gives off Simonon vibes. His sneering r-roll on the word “Ritz” is punk at its finest; thankfully, the song’s first verse is repeated twice for emphasis (the same trick the Killers used to make us fall in love with “Mr. Brightside”), so we get to hear it twice.
The no-holds-barred attitude seen in “Big” is evident throughout the album, whose title (an Irish, working-class term for poetry, according to a Reddit AMA with the band) reflects its focus on the intersection between societal and personal struggles. “Too Real” opens with a simple, shouted “Ah,” a wordless font of emotion. When Chatten begins singing, he’s prophetic as ever: “None can pull the passion loose from youth’s ungrateful hands.” As he repeats “Is it too real for ya?” in the chorus, there’s a challenge in his tone. “Hurricane Laughter” is another hard-hitter: a punk rock slam poem. The guitars roar, mimicking the rhythms of a torrential downpour, as Chatten speaks of “hurricane laughter, tearing down the plaster.” He sounds matter-of-fact as ever, but the music behind him foreshadows an apocalypse.
There are lovely lulls in the storm, however. “Sha Sha Sha,” while not quite cheery, has an upbeat, groovy sound. “Roy’s Tune,” smack in the middle of the album, is a gentle, almost shoegaze-y ballad, taking the listener by surprise. “Hey love, are you hanging on?” Chatten asks at the end of the track, revealing a gentle side that the earlier tracks hardly hint at.
The second half of the album is just as strong as the first. In “Chequeless Reckless,” the band defines the ethos of the album with a series of aphorisms condemning “hypocrites” and “phonies.” Even better is “Liberty Belle,” which could be described as the album’s most radio-friendly track if it weren’t for the unapologetic lyrics, which open with “You know I love that violence.” Dogrel is so full of monotone vocals that when Chatten sings melodically on this song, it’s jarring at first, subverting the listener’s expectations in the best way.
The record concludes on yet another gentle moment: “Dublin City Sky.” It’s hard to believe it’s not a cover of an old classic—it sounds like a folk hymn, even a traditional carol. The final line—“We trip along disaster in the whirlwind of the free/All together now” is the perfect conclusion to Dogrel, equal parts realism and resolution. Let’s hope Fontaines D.C. keeps tripping along towards success; their fortitude is needed.