2024 is beginning with the Bella Union label furthering its claim to alternative national treasure status. Having gifted to the world Silent Radio’s Album of 2023, BC Camplight’s ‘The Last Rotation of Earth’, the latest addition to its roster, Conchúr (pronounced Conor) White, fits within the gorgeous traditional songwriting part of their portfolio of delights exemplified by John Grant and Father John Misty rather than the equally thrilling but sonically complex likes of Pom Poko and Personal Trainer. White is a music graduate and has worked with young people suffering from mental health issues, both parts of that background being evident in tracks that combine songcraft with such striking lyricism that although the words sound a comfortable fit to each song, written down they look like poems rather than lyrics fitted to a song.

Starting with delicately plucked guitar, ‘Swirling Violets’ begins with one of its most immediate tracks, ‘The Holy Death’, which builds to a buoyant but festively chiming chorus at odds with the subject matter and its pleas to “breath in the holy death / The purest, sweet end” together with some vivid imagery (“our endings are hanging like cadavers on fishing lines”).

Throughout the album’s eleven tracks, there are deceptively easy tunes (in reality it is never simple to write tunes this good) that combine folk pop with modern production techniques and allow the impact of the lyrics to hit home. ‘Righteous (Why Did I Feel Like That?)’ has the air of a contemporary pop hymn ruminating on the desire for vindication (“When you turned his cheek I hit him in the chest”). ‘501s’ is a particularly vivid piece of storytelling and memory recalling being a kid with a plastic gun and being blown away by a pointed finger. Its imagery of colours and smell is especially evocative (“perfume drenched alcohol, Styrofoam cups”) and White’s voice is smooth without being extraordinary but feels as if it is being controlled in service to the song.

The record’s most folk inspired tune, ‘Rivers’, has a Simon and Garfunkel aura to its melody while contemplating compulsion (” A drink, a drink would surely drown out the dull malaise”) and how others attempt to accommodate the addiction. In the bridge White manipulates his voice to emulate an uillean pipe. ‘I Did Good Today’ is a tale of being bereft of self-confidence yet desperate for validation but is full of bleakly humorous imagery (“there’s a pity after party downstairs in the hotel lobby / There’s a single table and a funeral mixtape”). The title track is a gorgeous, hushed piece, White’s voice at its most affecting as he croons “love is a parallel world I glimpse in you / you see it too”, the emotion enriched by piano and strings.

‘Red House Parlour’ demonstrates his skill in song construction, how the dramatic impact is ratcheted up by pauses, removing and reintroducing instrumentation. ‘Fawn’ offers further illustration of his way with a smoothly powerful chorus let alone a compelling introductory line (“This is home but this is hate”) surpassed by its concluding words (“On our epitaph there’s a photograph where you can’t wait just to be yourself”).

The concluding pair of songs offer more space for quiet emotion with the hugely evocative ‘The Woman in the War’ seamlessly switching from relentless chorus to hushed pleas. ‘Deadwood’ conjures the outdoors with sounds of running water alongside acoustic guitar to reveal its tragic story (“There’s a crowd who are so offended but never lend a hand / To a fenian boy without a father / His mother drank ‘til it almost sunk her and it drown him in the end”).

With this magic realist delight that is both instantly appealing yet reveals additional layers with repeated listens, 2024 looks like being quite the year for both Conchúr White and Bella Union.

Conchúr White: Swirling Violets – Out 19th January 2024 (Bella Union)

White – Righteous (Why Did I Feel Like That?) (Official Lyric Video) (youtube.com)

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.