Album Review / Brian Finnegan: Hunger of the Skin

Drums!!!

That was my first reaction to Brian Finnegan’s new solo outing, as the drums exploded at approx. 0,8 seconds into the first track, Dust, right after the first guitar chord comes out.

Drums, or a funky guitar riff for that matter, was not the thing I was expecting to hear on a Brian Finnegan album. His work with Flook is one thing and his first solo outing The Ravishing Genius of Bones, from 2010, is a classic, a stunning work of re-imagined Irish folk music by someone with both deep understanding and strong personal, new vision of the genre. But it had neither drums nor funk.

But 2010 was not 2020 either. As this album’s Bandcamp page states, Hunger… ”is inspired by the extraordinary events that began in March 2020 when it seemed the world hunkered down and a slow burn recalibration of life began”.

In this sense, it is a link in the chain of other Celtic Covid albums, recorded in so many home studios and living rooms bedrooms and wardrobes; music born in and out of these strange times, but also the one to openly proclaim its direct relation to this period.

The album title itself comes from one of the many spoken bits woven into the music. The hunger of the skin in this time of human distance, fear, distrust and paranoia. And how this hunger roars in this music, music rougher that any Flook or Bones track, more immediate and… demanding, for want of a better word.

The skin may hunger, but with all the beats, bass lines and relentless percussion, these tracks latch themselves onto your skin, hot and alive. It’s not aggresssive, it’s intense: a living, thick foliage of sound, with Finnegan’s quicksilver flute soaring and diving and ascending above it all, lighting it up.

There are few moments of calm, and why should there be, in the time this album documents?

There is a stunning number of musicians at play here, from several countries too, but the sound is a tight band sound throughout. With some rock band instruments and occasional world music shadings, the soundscape is often not far removed from Ross Ainslie’s ambitious genre-busting albums Sanctuary and Vana.

So we are not in any sense in a folk scene anymore with Hunger… I’d say this is hugely ambitious and virtuoso global instrumental music whose composer and main soloist happens to be Irish and who takes his musical roots with him but does not in any way stop there.

It’s risky to mention any individual tracks from an album this strong but I have to name two. Flow, In The Year Of Wu Wei was already released as a single in 2020 and it is amazing: seven minutes of various grooves and colors and landscapes – around the world at light speed but making sense all along. The mind is properly blown, thank you Mr. Finnegan.

And then the final track that, for me, feels like both the epilogue and the essential statement of the album: Dare, a breathtaking poem by Morna Finnegan who also recites it, with Brian’s gentle music in the background.

Dare totally surprised me when I listened to the album for the first time and it left me wiping my eyes, I admit, breathless, grateful and hopeful. These sentiments apply to the entire Hunger of the Skin so I sincerely hope you waste no time in getting to listening to it.

***

Hunger of the Skin is available on Brian Finnegan’s Bandcamp site https://brianfinnegan.bandcamp.com/album/hunger-of-the-skin

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