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Bitch Falcon have been moving through the Dublin music scene with a stealth not appropriate for an awesome grunge powerhouse that produces arrangements so loud, they could burst a dam when played through a tiny iPhone speaker.

Next month the group will celebrate its sixth anniversary together and I would suggest they have yet to receive all due respect. Still, Bitch Falcon appear happy to keep their progress relatively slow moving and the really good news is that they are still getting better.

I say the band has been operating stealthily because it’s other outfits that have made significant breakthroughs this year. The past 12 months have been hyped as a rejuvenating period for Dublin guitar music. Most notable have been Fontaines D.C. and The Murder Capital. Like them or lump them, I’m struggling to remember the last group to rollick out of the city to the same international acclaim.

Bitch Falcon have been knocking around longer than either of those bands, which obviously doesn’t entitle them to the same success but might make them feel they can be next in the queue. Line-up changes over the years have seen the group, like Destiny’s Child, evolve from a four-piece to a more honed trio. Lizzie Fitzpatrick on guitar and lead vocals, Nigel Kenny behind the drums and Barry O’Sullivan on bass are the established roster now, driving their aesthetic closer to its full potential.

Let’s take a minute to go back in time: Released in 2015, Bitch Falcon’s first single “Wolfstooth” offered a throwback to trashy 1980s American hard rock that rippled with potential. But the production is a little too clean, draining Fitzpatrick’s indomitable voice of its undeniable power, while the heavy guitar riff tasked with propelling the track is unimaginative. As for follow-up “TMJ”, if you told me it was built off a guitar part nicked from Arctic Monkeys, I’d believe you.

But many a good band arrives less than fully formed and Bitch Falcon have since developed their sound into something more muscular, more gripping, more powerful than those first recordings. In 2017 they released a slew of singles that would make up the bulk of a self-titled debut EP that has so far offered the most complete document of their hard-hitting ethos.

Bitch Falcon describe themselves as a “straight-up rock band”, but underneath that simplification there are plenty of layers to unpack. The EP aligned their style to the Seattle grunge of Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. Mixed in are the idiosyncrasies of 1990s American alternative rock, the psychedelic sweep of shoegaze and the grandiosity of post-rock. There’s shades of belligerent punk and razor-wire metal too, while the easiest descriptor to reach for if you were recommending them to a friend is “they sound a bit like Wolf Alice”. But the band never sound like style-jackers or retro-revivalists, but rather the continuity of the greats I like to imagine once popped and hissed out of Fitzpatrick’s first Sony Walkman (or maybe iPod).

If soul music makes heartbreak and despair sound like something to be celebrated, then grunge sounds like feelings caving your chest from the inside. Tracks like “Of Heart” trap listeners in a hard-rock pressure cooker. The atmosphere is stifling as Fitzpatrick’s guitar rings with majestic sweep and the percussion is so forcibly thwacked, it feels like the drumstick could splinter in Kenny’s hands.

This is music that could power a jet engine. Far from just being all dissonance and noise, Fitzpatrick’s vocals hang over the raw power with operatic radiance and strong melodic instinct. Sleater-Kinney always seem like the go-to comparison for any woman-fronted indie rock band, thanks to Corin Tucker’s high-pitched punk growls. On songs like “Wolfstooth”, Fitzpatrick’s voice undeniably sparks thoughts of the Washington state legend.

As a songwriter, Fitzpatrick’s lyrics are abstract: “Not far from here, there’s a man of heart”, she sings on “Of Heart”. “He knows to rest but he can’t wake up.” It’s almost-fairy-tale imagery that works as an interesting and impactful counterpoint to intensity of the music.

This year has seen the band release two singles that double down on their ethos. “Panther” is a feedback-drenched behemoth of a thing. The drumming is inventive, the guitars really snarl, and stretched to five and a half minutes, it’s as epic as hard rock Iliad. The tighter arrangement of “Damp Breath” gestures towards more pop-punk influences, with extra vibrancy coming from guitar licks that sound like an instrument being wrangled to within an inch of being snapped in half.

But that’s Bitch Falcon – a band that can turn their sound up so loud without going over the edge, an outfit that sounds ferocious without ever losing control. The surge of Dublin rock invention happening right now means it probably won’t be long before expressions like “musical movement” are being thrown about. If so, keep a corner free for this venomous triumvirate. Their rise might have been slow and methodical but it’s led them to the cusp of a real moment.

Dean Van Nguyen

Dean Van Nguyen is a cultural critic and music journalist for The Irish Times, The Guardian, Pitchfork, Bandcamp Daily and Wax Poetics, among others. As well as pop culture, he writes about identity, youth,...

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