Album Reviews

Grian Chatten – Chaos For The Fly

(Partisan) UK release date: 30 June 2023

Fontaines DC frontman’s captivating debut solo album shows him unafraid to embrace chaos and complexity in pursuit of his art

Grian Chatten - Chaos For The Fly Abandoned seaside towns, with their faded glamour and glory days gone and forgotten have long been the inspiration for all manner of artistic muses over the years, from Morrissey’s Every Day Is Like Sunday to the haunting film Carnival Of Souls. The tragedy of past glories played out on a backdrop of nostalgia, desperation or lost opportunities seem to be a metaphor for futures not realised, or chances not taken. So where does Grian Chatten, prime voice from post-punk Fontaines DC, come into the fray?

Borne out of a personal darkness that was the result of a heavy touring regime promoting Fontaines DC’s third album Skinty Fia, and loosely based around a concept about the inhabitants of the dead-end seaside resort, Chatten took himself to Stoney Beach (just outside Dublin) to recover between the mega slog of American and Australian tours. He said the album came to him complete one evening when walking and listening to the sea, complete with chord progressions and string arrangements.

Solo albums from band frontmen can signify the urge to go it alone, but Chatten acknowledges these songs as falling outside of where his group is heading and that they needed their own space to breathe. You might expect more of the same bluster and boisterous venom from his background, but in its place is a vulnerable, intimate, low key album basked in acoustics, washes of electronics, and backing vocals from his fiancée, Georgie Jesson.

This seeming divine intervention lends itself to the nine songs’ elemental feel, pulled from one hand to another and passed over without losing any of their intensity in the transaction. Chatten may well have been suffering from imposter syndrome surrounded by his Fontaines cohorts, but here he stands alone, with dignity on an album that belies its author’s years.

Sympathetically produced by long time Fontaines producer Dan Carey with a lightness of touch and a sprinkle of sonics, Chaos For The Fly is a gem brimming with charm and humanity. The title comes from a punchline for Morticia from The Addams Family television show; “Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.” This is reflected in the themes of the songs, of feeling out of control, overwhelmed but doomed to repetition in isolation in your own head.

The idea of listening to songs playing with ideas of self-sabotage and the darker waters of love would suggest a harrowing listen, but the colours, textures and poetic side make it an approachable and engaging experience.

The nylon acoustic plucking of opening track The Score blends into Last Time Every Time Forever which sways with aches of the heart over a stalking synth melody. Lead single Fairlies bustles into life, with its joyous statement of independence “kindness is a trick to keep you strange”. Bob’s Casino alternates between brooding verses nestling up against vintage ‘60s pop replete with cheesy trumpets.

Mid-album, the embittered All Of The People takes introspective self-pitying perhaps too far and seems an unnecessary blot on the landscape Chatten has created here. This minor faux pas is easily offset by the brighter nuances of sounds by the strummed and rolling romantic Salt Throwers Off A Truck and the low-slung shimmer of East Coast Bed replete with chiming guitars and an almost breakbeat. Season For Pain ends the album with an elegiac quality that moves from acoustic to electric guitar before slipping into an almost jaunty jabbing keyboard motif and garbled outro.

Chaos For The Fly is a captivating debut that showcases his artistic evolution outside of the post-punk bombast of Fontaines DC. These songs bleed through in their honesty and lack of over-thinking to demand active engagement, to explore their intricacies and contemplate their themes. As debut solo albums go, it is a testament to the limitless potential of an artist unafraid to embrace chaos and complexity in pursuit of his art.

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