Album Review: Saint Sister 'Shape of Silence'

Album Review: Saint Sister 'Shape of Silence'

Saint Sister - Shape of Silence

Northern Irish duo Gemma Doherty and Morgan MacIntyre, better know as Saint Sister, have been making music since they met in Dublin in 2014. They have since released an EP (2015’s Madrid) and a number of outstanding singles, all leading up to the release today of their debut album Shape of Silence.

Produced by Alex Ryan (bassist with Hozier), the album is a collection of 12 ethereal, hauntingly beautiful tracks infused with Saint Sister’s distinctive mix of folk and electronica. Irish musicians have long been associated with an ambient, laid back almost mythical style of music and while Saint Sister’s Irishness  (Doherty has played the harp since a child) is in many ways the very soul of Shape of Silence, it would be unfair to compare them to the work of their country’s predecessors such as Enya. There is a modernity and experimentalism in Saint Sister’s work that may echo generations of Irish music, but has a twist that takes you out of the traditional as quickly as it draws you in. Take album standout ’Half Awake’ which starts with angelic plucks of a harp and gossamer vocals before switching into a shuffling, trip-hop beat and evolving into a gorgeous wall of sound with distorted vocals and brass effects. Or latest single ‘Steady’, which continues the floaty, unison vocal effect but has echoes of Moby in its jazzy piano and thudding bassline.

There is both a darkness and an intimacy to the lyrics and melodies which in many ways make heartbreak the overarching theme of the album. Saint Sister said: “We wanted to explore the connections between people, and the conversations that are borne out of figuring yourself out in relation to another person. The beginning of the record feels very conspiratorial. But then the songs become a little darker, a little more self aware and discerning and a little lonelier.”
You only love me when you’re half awake / Or out of your mind on whatever you take’ they sing on ‘Half Awake’ while the swingy, poppy beat of ‘Twin Peaks’ is in contrast to the often traumatic story it tells of dealing with the aftermath of the breakdown of a relationship. Perhaps the greatest track on the album, single ‘You Never Call’, continues this theme. Beginning with just a piano and slow beat, it builds into a emotionally powerful chorus, with interweaving melodies and vocals, the staccato lyrical repetition echoing the angst of unrequited love and the anxiety of knowing you are being ignored by the most important person in your world. ‘You never call me / Don’t you have my number? / I guess you lost it / Maybe last summer?

Shape of Silence is a remarkable and unique album that is up there as one of the best releases of 2018. In a music world that is becoming increasingly obsessed with ensuring everything is categorised, conformed and boxed to a specific genre it is refreshing to hear an album that steadfastly refuses to bow to this pressure, proving working with a variety of inspirations and styles will always produce an engaging, coherent whole if the talent and heart is there.  Call it electro-folk, atmos-pop, folk-pop or whatever you will, this is pop-music-as-art at its very best and augurs well for the future direction of this exceptional band.

Shape of Silence is out now. You can download on iTunes or stream on Spotify.

Saint Sister are touring Australia in November:

10th November - Sydney Irish Festival, Sydney NSW

11th November - Northcote Social Club, Melbourne VIC

13th November - Lansdowne Hotel, Sydney NSW.

15th November - Mullum Music Festival, Mullumbimby NSW

Shape of Silence

Shape of Silence tracklist

  1. The Beginning

  2. Twin Peaks

  3. Tin Man

  4. You Never Call

  5. Causing Trouble

  6. Tir Eile

  7. Corpses

  8. Steady

  9. Madrid

  10. Shape of Silence

  11. Half Awake

  12. The Mater

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