Gathering my notes to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything, a satisfied exhale fills the silence in the Library Bar of the Central Hotel. “The Guinness tastes good. It’s good to be home” says Conor Wynne, guitarist with Otherkin, the home-grown rock quartet for whom the sky is the limit. They’ve just returned from a third appearance at Reading & Leeds. Conor, David Anthony (bass) and I shoot the breeze for a few minutes about the difference between Guinness at home and abroad. We don’t really know whether it’s true that ‘Guinness doesn’t travel well’ or if that’s just a misconception tapped into by the Irish tourist board. There will be plenty of time to figure that out on a European tour which will see Otherkin on the road right up until just before Christmas culminating in two homecoming dates in Dublin and Galway. The release of their debut album ‘OK’ is somewhat of a watershed moment for one of the mainstays of the local scene in recent years.
It’s clear that the band is passionate about the scene here at home. David’s only gripe about their double performance at Electric Picnic is that they couldn’t catch Bitch Falcon and Declan McKenna due to clashes with their sets. The 105.2 shaped hole in the airwaves is felt strongly as they recall their first radio interview on Phantom FM and lament how the indie/rock spare on air helped them establish a fanbase, concluding that it’s a shame that it’s not an outlet that bands can look to nowadays. Some of the DJs who have moved on from TXFM like Claire Beck and Cathal Funge have championed their tunes at their new stations and they remain humbled and grateful to all who have given them a leg up. They try to do their part to ensure that the ladder isn’t pulled up altogether, aiding in the running of an indigenous indie/rock club night in Whelan’s.
Where the Electric Picnic line-up was perhaps a bit light on rock acts at the headline level, the Irish talent stepped up to the plate considerably. The likes of Fangclub, Touts and King Kong Company joined Otherkin in propping up the festival on the home side. David goes on to correctly predict that the crowds at all of these sets demonstrate that Irish rock bands are not just there to make up the numbers. Increasingly, he says, festival goers are actively hoping that these acts will come back to Irish shores to perform. The lads are aware and appreciative of their roots and surroundings. It’s hard not to root for them. Their set at the Salty Dog on the Friday night of EP was easily the highlight of the weekend. Rankin’s Wood filled out nicely the next afternoon as they demonstrated what they’re all about for the second time in less than a day. They say that by the time the live show gets back to Dublin and Galway in December (45 shows later), they have no idea where it will be at but that those present will get something that nowhere else has gotten. I’m sure it will be more than just a definitive answer on the varying quality of Guinness at home and away. What else is for sure is that they are part of a scene that is awash with an appreciation for loud music.
It’s heartening to be reviewing ‘OK’ in light of seeing their live show recently. Often attendees will determine how much like the album an act sounds, but for Otherkin the objective was to create something in-studio that does their live show justice. They hit the back of the net, capturing their energy and managing to blend together a variety of strands of rock sounds around their increasingly distinctive traits. OK is high intensity from the get-go with ‘Treat Me So Bad’, a raw and stripped back opener which throws down just over three minutes of catharsis. The winding high pitched riff takes you on a rollercoaster over singer Luke Reilly’s seamless and grainy introductory remarks. The hard rock, partly punk bedding of the track packs a punch. There’s just enough time to catch your breath before the second track and latest single ‘Come On, Hello’ kicks off. For them, OK “represents exactly where we are at as a band”. They’re having the time of their lives, no more so than in the record’s second track. This track has been making waves already and I’m sure it’ll continue to do well.
Acting as the spine of the album are some tracks which will already be known to fans of the band, having featured on Otherkin’s two previous EPs, The 201 and The New Vice. ‘Ay Ay’ keeps things in party mode while taking a dig at expectations and power relations in the music industry. Luke is confidently front and centre in this, vocally he is excellent and delivers the message with confidence, they won’t be “meat for the radio”. There’s a statement of intent in the song. As ‘Feel It’ begins, the cohesive quality of OK becomes evident. It feels like the end of the first act as it stops. It’s been a blast so far. The 12 chosen tracks were whittled down from the 40 written and 16 eventually recorded. A process which they say was every bit as challenging as it sounds but practically everything on the album feels in place.
Track five is ’89 which almost lures you into a false sense of melancholy before picking you back up again as the beat kicks in and we ‘follow the leader, follow the leader’. It spirals into one of the heavier moments on the album. We get a different Otherkin here as they demonstrate their diversity. This is followed by ‘Yeah I Know’ which pushes the BPM back up to where we were at the start. It’s hard not to place myself back at Salty Dog thinking about it! The track contains yet another batch of catchy refrains amid pandemonium between the quartet. It’s a relentlessly good halfway point.
‘Enabler’ is a grungier and heavier departure which sees the band break from the established flow of the album but for a good reason. It’s laced with falsetto and head banging potential. A pair of quick-fire two and a half minute tracks come in quick succession and jack up the tempo again with equally hard-hitting yet different offerings. The desire to strive for that live sound on the album saw the band ratchet up the BPM for ‘Razorhead’. They admit that the track almost didn’t make it because they had perhaps overcooked it and left drummer Rob a bit short of breath (worth it?) In ‘Bad Advice’ the band serves up another which is well placed to cross into the mainstream.
The same can be said for ‘I Was Born’ and ‘React’ which provide another couple of fun and powerful choruses which are next to impossible not to sing along to. With one track to go and a bird’s-eye view of the album taking shape, it can’t be pigeonholed into one strand of rock music. They’ve blended their own distinctive sound with bits of indie, grunge, trash and punk. It’s got enough for a dozen rock fans come together to talk about their favourite track on the album and justifiably expect them all to have a different opinion. The final and longest track ‘So-So’ completes proceedings as we build to a heavier and heavier ending. It brings full circle what is an extremely enjoyable listen. The lads sum up their hopes for the album in simple terms; they want you to come and see them live, which they believe is the best presentation of them. They’re right about that and with ‘OK’, they brought me right back to the mosh pit at EP. You’re left wanting more. It demands your attention from the beginning and has no problem holding it for the whole 40 minutes.