OxFolk Reviews: ‘This Is How We Fly’

This ground-breaking album from the Irish instrumental group ‘This Is How We Fly’ is folk music’s answer to the question “so what happens next, then?” Filled with experimental twists and turns, and acknowledging influences from a palate ranging from jazz to Appalachian shoe dances, this new album (named ‘This Is How We Fly’ after the group) is an utterly absorbing work by an utterly fascinating group of musicians. Consisting of sublime Irish fiddler Caoimhin O Raghallaigh playing haranguer d’amore, jazz clarinettist and electronics musician Sean Mac Erlaine, Appalacian hard shoe dancer Nic Gareiss and progressive percussionist Petter Berndalen, this group is blazing a new, contemporary trail in Irish folk music. And what an exciting trail it is!

The sheer beauty and inventiveness of these tracks, many of which were written by members of the group, are testament to the versatility and skill of these musicians. Many of the tunes are driven forward and held together by O Raghallaigh’s innate ability to build on the Irish traditional music he knows so well, using hypnotic loops and repetitions to create worlds of sound within the tracks. Around this Mac Erlaine weaves and ducks with the stark, bold voice of the clarinet, at times complimenting and harmonising and at times creating dissonance with the other players. Berndalen underlies all this with incredible skill, able to keep hold the various musical structures together with his subtle percussive accompaniment. And, amongst all this, Gareiss interweaves his distinctive, personal style of stepdancing- influenced both by Irish sean-nos and American stepdance traditions, his astonishing rhythms add depth and colour to this album. Indeed, it is tempting to see ‘This Is How We Fly’ through the extended metaphor of art- everything about it, from its expressive, experimental tracks such as the electronics and clarinet solos of ‘Flight to Light’ to the minimalist, simplistic grey album cover, gives the reader the impression that this is more than merely music to be half-listened to. It demands to be replayed, studied and thought over.

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‘This Is How We Fly’ refuses to be pinned down into any category, and thus I have to admit is hard to describe in the limited space of a newspaper review: its musical depths and expression, with each track growing into a new, strange beast that defies pigeonholing, make this album more of an experience than a simple project in listening. This is a wonderful aspect to the group- their music encourages, no, demands engagement and concentration- whether it’s O Raghallaigh’s winding, twisting fiddle music or Gareiss’s soaring step-dance rhythms, ‘This Is How We Fly’ pushes the boundaries of Irish music.