Dundalk native Video Blue (Jim O’Donoghue Martin) is back with a new record, Night Painting. Arriving at the tail end of 2019, the album comes two years after his debut full-length release, Love Scenes. Recorded in studios around London, where O’Donoghue Martin lives, the new album highlights his growth since the last record. The songwriting on Night Painting is more assured, more confident. O’Donoghue Martin knows when to hold back and when to loosen the leash a little bit.
On Night Painting, Video Blue dabbles in elements of spoken word, notably on opening track ‘What Have You Got’, flirts with a more conventional singer-songwriter approach (‘Peninsula’, ‘Slow News Day’), and maintains a steady relationship with electronic ambience throughout the whole thing. Flitting between genres from track-to-track, O’Donoghue Martin flexes his songwriting muscles, and avoids limiting himself to one musical space. He builds energy with a steady rhythm, escalating the tension, and inserting moments of release exactly where he wants.
O’Donoghue Martin has certainly proven himself capable of doing it all in the past—performing, producing, and self-releasing—but he recruits a few carefully chosen collaborators for Night Painting. Claire Byrne provides vocals for ‘Action!’, Paul Campbell’s beats feature on ‘Peninsula’ and ‘On Desire Lines’, and the closing track’s violin sample is courtesy of Katie Linn. As with his first album, these small guest features contribute to the atmosphere, building up a collage of sounds that never threatens to become too busy. An art college graduate, it’s probably no surprise that Video Blue has a flair for curating these chosen sounds.
On the latter half of the album, ‘moonjetvenus’ and ‘The Crossing’ encapsulate this knack for the atmospheric, the aural collage. Though Video Blue’s style is malleable throughout Night Painting, this tendency towards the atmospheric is probably the most consistent feature. And so this brings me to the critical nitpicking section of this review.
The nitpick is that, perhaps, if there is a criticism to be levelled at this record, it’s at the lack of a unifying style throughout. Maybe a little clarity of purpose is absent. O’Donoghue Martin is adept at shifting the tone throughout, quickening and slowing the pace as he wishes. However, at times, these changes of pace feel arbitrarily chosen, not organically earned. Of course, I praised this exact knack for controlled delivery and pacing earlier on. Essentially, this is the other side of that coin.
Nonetheless, the individual tracks here are strong on their own merit. ‘On Desire Lines’ is exquisitely produced, ‘Peninsula’ is joyous, and lead single ‘Guts’ embodies everything Video Blue is about.
Above all, Night Painting sees Video Blue successfully navigate the oft-treacherous waters of the dreaded second album. More importantly, there is clear progress here. O’Donoghue Martin’s DIY work ethic, his innate songwriting ability, his growth in the two-year period since his debut—all of these factors are evident on Night Painting. Building it all in his bedroom—and the occasional recording studio—Video Blue suddenly finds himself with an impressive back catalogue of dreamy pop gems to his name.