I Have a Tribe is the brainchild of the Dublin singer-songwriter Patrick O’Laoghaire, and Changing of the Guard is the project’s first album since 2016’s Beneath a Yellow Moon.
Changing of the Guard is chocked full of O’Laoghaire’s abstract poetic prose, which contains seemingly free-associating lyrics with epic connotations. Despite the notion of these lyrics being abstract, it is not to say that they are without form, as the album has a clear sentiment, which touches on topics like nostalgia, loneliness, homesickness, uncertainty, broken relationships, love, and trying to move on.
The album’s thesis statement is made on its opening title track. “There is a changing of the guard inside my heart/But I keep the same face” illustrates the narrator’s attempt at self-growth and trying to make this transition noticeable to the world, which is a theme that runs throughout. The first half of the record is filled with an overwhelming sense of wanting and doubt.
This feeling is successfully invoked by O’Laoghaire in a manner that seems to draw from his own life while simultaneously sticking to fiction and not revealing any real-life stories, and it works.
The atmosphere on this album is very strong. Even when delving into symbolic storytelling, which, from a direct narrative perspective, may be hard to follow, you always get a sense of the feeling the songwriter is trying to evoke. As an example, take one of the album’s singles, ‘Vitruvian Man’. At one point, O’Laoghaire sings, “I took a walk today/And I spoke with a painting on the wall/And he stepped out of the frame/And then we went along the hole/And in the garden we got down on our knees/He poured some honey down my throat/And he said, ‘Go and be free.’”
The story beats themselves verge on the absurd, but the track’s sensations of coldness, physical and mental exhaustion, and struggle for meaning are never lost in the fray.
The instrumentation, which weaves in conjunction with the narrative, is a big part of bringing the album’s ambience to life. Musically, the record alternates between easy-listening, yacht rock, indie rock, and even jazz on ‘Teddy’s Song’, all while having a fuzzy greyness present.
Yet, just as you begin to feel lost in the oppressive atmosphere of the beginning of the record – with songs like ‘Cafe’ writing of being unable to find yourself after a bad breakup, and ‘Fly Like a Bird’ about struggling to let go of baggage – Changing Of The Guard takes a noticeably brighter disposition, like the sun coming out on a cloudy, overcast day .
‘Sweet Day’ with its swinging, chirpy key instrumentation and clapping percussions expresses the satisfaction of choosing to move on despite your uncertainties, and by ‘Oh Man’, O’Laoghaire is finally able to sing, “Take a look at this face/I think it’s changing.”