“You know when a song is good enough to let go,” muses Seamus Fogarty of his patient and meticulous approach to songcraft. Over time and tide it’s given rise to the London-based Irish alt-folk and electronica alchemist’s truly magnificent second album and Domino debut The Curious Hand. A record not born of grand ideas realised at a stroke, but eked out slowly and steadily, honed and cultivated, turned over and around, deconstructed and put back together again. A record made through open-spirited collaboration with friends and family and hours lost in a headphone world. All that and Seamus’s natural inclination to take his songs and “screw them up,” as he puts it. By which he means squirreling them back to his home studio and applying the synthesiser drones and circuit burps, found sounds and spoken-word audio samples that give all of his records such wonderful atmosphere. It’s as if they’re haunted by rogue half-tuned signals from another world.
“Screwing up” his songs, in the best possible sense, is a recurring theme throughout Seamus’s slim but nigh-on flawless catalogue. The first installment was his ghostly debut album God Damn You Mountain, originally released on Fence Records in 2012 and later re-released in expanded form on Lost Map Records in 2014. An auspicious introduction to his unique idiom, it gave acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle and bouzouki new context among Steve Reich-like lo-fi electronic pulses and gurgles and all sorts of found-sound miscellanea from the breaking of eggs to snippets of random conversations (“an intriguingly uneasy handshake between the ancient and the modern” as I wrote of it at the time). From there, also via Lost Map, followed what now represents a kind of bridge between Seamus’s two longplayers, the haunting Ducks and Drakes EP. A repurposed passage of Ducks and Drakes – from the shape-shifting track A Mile Beneath The Broken Heart of London Town – even carries over to The Curious Hand in the shape of the melancholy Seems Wherever.
The Curious Hand’s 11 tracks are the most thematically and sonically immersive music Seamus has made to date. It’s clear from the first droning strains of opener Short Ballad for a Long Man, a lament for the skeleton of a 250 year old giant Irishman Charles Byrne displayed in The Hunterian Museum in London (“it’s free in and in its own quite strange way, recommended,” comments Seamus). As he’s paraded for gawping audiences’ pleasure from “Canary Wharf to Skibereen, Timbuktu and back again”, he can’t help but sound like someone a travelling giant Irishman singer-songwriter might feel a certain empathy with. It’s clearer still throughout Carlow Town, a folk-blues number recounting with Homerian flourish a night spent sleeping in a church and waking up during mass, rewired with a squelching electronic beat, dirty analogue bassline and various synthesiser wheezes, hisses and slithers, vocal glitches and other sounds from Seamus’s sandbox of strange noises. Or in Van Gogh’s Ear, a plaintively gentle masterpiece splicing together philosophical musings on a niggling ear infection with a tumble of sorrowful ruminations on the tragic loss of a close friend – multi-instrumentalist Vince Sipprell, a player with Hot Chip, New Order, Elbow and his own project Geese among others, whose suicide in 2015 shocked the music community in London and beyond. As a softly motorik bassline and swooping and cascading strings carry the narrator forth on a journey through the landscape of his troubled mind, it’s as if each new line of lyrics – sung in Seamus’s softly rasping west coast Irish burr – is vying to outdo the last.