The Irish Times, Tony Clayton-Lea, August 12th 2013
Sligo singer-songwriter Pearse McGloughlin and Cork-based English songwriter/musician Justin Grounds have teamed up to create an album inspired, in part, by Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. If that all sounds a tad too esoteric for you, then prepare to be shamed, surprised and beguiled by a short suite of forlorn tunes that exemplify elegance, subtlety and good taste. If there’s a starkness and solitariness to proceedings, then blame the winter of 2013, as the pair – McGloughlin in Ireland, Grounds in Canada – delivered and worked through mixes online. It matters little if you’re unfamiliar with the source; what’s important is what the two have created, which is a series of sonic gems (gifted with beats and beautifully spectral spoken-word inserts) that breathe life and art into electronic music.www.idiotsongs.bandcamp.com 4****
Nialler 9 – Album of the Week August 12th, 2013
An album by two musicians collaborating via a shared love of Dostoevsky produces a fine collection of “electronic chamber” music.
On their own, Pearse McGloughlin and Justin Grounds are two fine writers of songs. McLoughlin is a Sligo man, who released his second album In Movements, along with his band Nocturnes last year. That album pushed him further into a more hazy form of starry-night indie-folk anchored by a very soft vocal timbre.
Grounds meanwhile, an Englishman who recorded an excellent album of atmospheric electro-acoustic music, The Dissolving in 2010 in a cottage in Clonakilty, Co. Cork.
The pair met on the circuit as it were, and formed a bond that led to a collaboration, over Dropbox, that resulted in Idiot Songs, an album of “electronic chamber” music.
The catalyst for the collaboration was a shared love of 19th century Russian author Dostoevsky, particularly his novel The Idiot and that influence gives this excellent release its impetus.
The lyrics are inspired by the book’s plot and passages as far as I can tell (I have not read the book) and as such are imbued with a thematic purpose that lends McGloughlin, the main singer here, an urgency previously not heard.
The music has a cinematic nous that drawing from such a rich source material can provide. Opener ‘The Courage Of Truth’ uses an autoharp and a violin to establish a very Russian introductory scene, while electro-acoustic arrangements are the main descriptor throughout.
‘Nastasya’s Tears’ marries strident electronic beats with elegant violin and guitar. ‘Devils’ is a hypnotic bass bubbling production with autoharp chords ringing out with Grounds providing a filmic monologue. ‘Villages of Ether’ (watch the stunning video by Pearse’s brother Kevin below) leans more towards the twinkling piano grandeur of Sigur Ros than anything else here while ‘Jung Trickster’ is a companion song in tone to Nina Hynes’ excellentDancing Suns.
Over 34 minutes, the pair, with help from Enda Roche, create what the best albums manage to do, an atmosphere exclusive to itself with its own identity. By indebting the project to Dostoevsky and partnering up, McLoughlin and Grounds have made an album greater than their two talents. No idiots here.
Harmless Noise, Nay McArdle July 30th 2013
Those already familiar with the work of Justin Grounds and Pearse McGloughlin might remember that a few months ago, a free download of Nastasya’s Tears was given away as a free download ahead of the full release of Idiot Songs. Now the album is available to stream in full, and a wonderful video has been made by Pearse’s brother Kevin McGloughlin for the track Villages Of Ether. Keeping it in the family, other brother Páraic did the artwork.
I’m not sure what the technical name for tunnel-vision type shots with fixed perspective is, but I know I love it. It’s a fantastic piece of work with marvellous textures and symbolism. According to the description, it is “Set in the subconscious, this piece interrogates what it means to recognise a difficulty in oneself. The video endeavours to depict struggles with anxiety and ultimately the elimination of self doubt.”
I’m utterly overwhelmed by the quality of work here and more than anything, long to abandon my place in front of this laptop and, with these songs drifting outwards, want to pull The Idiot from my bookshelf and disappear for a week. It’s a beautiful homage to the empathy and creativity of Dostoyevsky and without a doubt one of the best concept albums I’ve heard in my time.
Spanning nine tracks, Idiot Songs was created over the course of winter as a collaborative project between Justin and Pearse, even when they both resided in different continents. Apparently analysis and correspondence was sparse and with unspoken but shared ideals for the most part, the two worked in harmony. If you head over to the project’s Tumblr, there are lots of interesting entries that document the creative process of the album, from notes, lyrics, arrangements and emails between the two musicians. One example is this entry which outlines the opening piece to the album The Courage Of Truth which is played on violin and autoharp. The tracks are seamlessly constructed, so much that there’s not the slightest inkling of suggestion that they were recorded in anything less than the conventional manner. More melancholy than mellifluous, they brood, calculate, extract, hint and ponder over the different themes that run through the novel, picking titles from people, places and precepts.
While The Idiot is a literary classic, the music on offer here, though described as ‘chamber songs’, is definitely contemporary. The use of piano and violin and other high grade instruments give that classy sheen of rich sound, but it’s in the rigour of electronic beats and droning drifts where the musicians’ progressive nous comes to the fore. The majority of the songs are structured around electronics, with vocals that implore and petition on behalf of the characters. A special tip of the cap goes to Enda Roche who recorded some key parts, notably piano and vocals on the above video’s track Villages Of Ether, as well as guitars on Nastasya’s Tears.
If the above hasn’t sold you on the album, or the book, I at least hope your interest has been piqued enough to seek out a live performance of the music. Having just played Knockanstockan, the next festival to be graced with Idiot Songs presence is Castlepalooza this Sunday 4 August. After that a succession of more intimate gigs follow, at the Black Box in Belfast on 6 Aug, Spirit Store in Dundalk on 7 Aug and Odessa in Dublin on 8 August.