Album Review | Flowers, Sparks, Fireworks Is Another Magical Journey With This Ship Argo

Finalist at the Northern Irish Music Prize in 2021, This Ship Argo (AKA Aileen McKenna) is back with her third full length album. A follow up to 2020’s Kintsugi and 2021’s Always the Bees: Never the Honey, the eight track collection Flowers, Sparks, Fireworks is entirely self-produced, recorded, mixed and mastered in a home studio. 

This is a record that builds on This Ship Argo’s previous offerings, giving the listener a more evolved sound while maintaining the wistful raw energy and harmonies that McKenna has become known for.

We are introduced to Flowers, Sparks, Fireworks with intriguing opener ‘Between the dirt and the ground’, a track which seems to develop as you listen, becoming fuller and more ethereal from an inauspicious start. With that, the tone is set for an album that embraces imperfection and runs with it.  

Indeed, McKenna has confessed: “As I was recording and trying to replace or redo the ‘broken’ elements of my work I realised that those things were actually the things I loved the most, and even if sometimes they feel uncomfortable to include I wanted to try”. 

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Many of the tracks feel almost unfinished, but in a way that leaves you hanging and wishing there was more. The fact that many come in under three minutes only add to this. Our brains are almost programmed for the classic three-minute track so it’s somewhat jarring when an artist has the audacity to wrap up a song before that. 

Throughout, McKenna’s lyrics are incredibly reflective, perhaps no more than ‘For the maybe when’, a haunting track that quickly establishes itself as a highlight. 

“Memories become rosaries to soothing chants,
Strung together in a loop to cycle again and again and again,
Clasped in hands and buried in velvet bags,
Smoothed down over time.” 

But there are also instrumental highlights to match the lyrical standouts. On ‘Adrift’, McKenna forgoes her words to create a viscerally haunting piece. ‘Half-ban’ is another instrumental layered with a haunting harmony, and clocks in as the album’s longest track despite just a 4:25 minute runtime.

Using a guitar, analog, digital synthesizers, drum machines, piano improvisations, samples and phone recordings, McKenna has created a memorable journey in Flowers, Sparks, Fireworks – one that transports you to the magical world of This Ship Argo for its short yet sweet duration. 

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