n the cover of Fontaines DC’s third album is a giant Irish deer standing on the ground floor of a house – an extinct creature in a place it’s not meant to be. The title is an old semi-Gaelic swearword, sometimes uttered by drummer Tom Coll’s exclusively Irish-speaking great-aunt, which roughly translates to ‘the damnation of the deer’.
This feeling of being out of place and possibly cursed is something frontman Grian Chatten has struggled with while pushing his band and his life forward at a breakneck pace. Exactly three years ago, the quintet was based in Dublin and released a debut album, Dogrel, of fast and angsty punk rock. Now they all live in London, they’re Grammy, Brit and Mercury nominees, they’ve booked three nights at Hammersmith’s Eventim Apollo and the NME Awards have just crowned them Best Band in the World. Chatten in particular, despite being born in Cumbria, is conflicted about settling in a country with a long history that makes his kind feel unwelcome. He also fears that he has abandoned his main source of inspiration. The ‘DC’ stands for ‘Dublin City’ and there’s a reference to James Joyce’s connections to the Irish capital in the new Bloomsday funeral song.
It seems ludicrous to call the unruly sound of this three-year-old debut album its debut, but the music has grown to such an extent that if it weren’t for the swampy Chatten accent, it could be a different group. There’s a Smiths-esque jangle in Roman Holiday, which is also accompanied by a rare Carlos O’Connell guitar solo. The guitarist stepped into Chatten’s shoes to write a song, Big Shot, a dreamy climax on which he grows to the size of his rock star ego. Most surprising is the title track, which channels late ’90s dance-rock acts such as Death in Vegas and XTRMNTR-era Primal Scream.
In truth, the bouncy beats don’t quite suit Chatten’s doom sounds, and he also struggles to hold attention on The Couple Across the Way, with its two-note melody and sparse accordion. But otherwise, the generally slower pace allows for a glare sensation that matches his tired words. The songs develop without rushing, especially the six-minute opener In ár gCroíthe go deo (“In our hearts forever”) which turns into a crushing crash of instruments, and the Nabokov conclusion, which accumulates effects guitar and interwoven vocals. It’s a style that’s never been heard before from a band that’s already become one of the best.