We Are Aerials, is more than a side project for Derry artist Conor McAteer. His solo project under this name is onto its third, and most personal, album: Maps. The album steers away from his past two albums, which are a mix of indie folk and garage rock, and takes a more curated approach with songs that blend together like a book of poetry. We Are Aerials has always released music which is heavily lyric focused but Maps is definitely more poetic than traditional folk storytelling. The vividness in the lyrics are filled with running metaphors that carry from song to song and only give a glimpse into tiny parts of stories. It leaves a lot of room for listeners to connect to them despite being clearly written from deep personal experiences. It’s all backed up by a delicate mix of acoustic and electric guitar, piano and brief harmonies which mix with ease, creating a calming effect. Imagine being curled up by the window with a cup of tea on a rainy afternoon.
The opening track, ‘Love Is’, features Paddy Nash delivering spoken word poetry over McAteer’s music about what love is not. It’s a great introduction into the next eight tracks which follow a melancholic theme. The next track ‘Disgrace’ captures this with lyrics like “When you’re cast adrift, you see why fisherman don’t learn to swim” and “I’ve been thinking of making peace with the sky, but I’m thinking of passing that by.” There’s beauty in the delicateness of the song with strong imagery of the coast with all its mystery, depth, and unknowingness.
Other songs like ‘Champs Elysees’ gather hints of gospel inspiration, sounding like an indie folk hymn that you could imagine being performed by a choir while songs like ‘House Noise’ and ‘Veneer’ are a modern adult lullaby with an eerie calming effect with their mix of acoustic and electric backings. There is a sense of loss and love but despite the heaviness, the music itself gives off just a slight sense of hope. What comes off as simple songs, reveal themselves to be more complex when broken down, showcasing McAteer’s talent as a songwriter and lyricist.
The final track is a cover of Bruce Spirngsteen’s 1994 single, ‘Streets of Philadelphia’. It’s risky to end such a well knit set of songs with a cover, especially one that’s been covered so often. However McAteer’s version manages to stay true to the sound of Maps while also keeping the iconic sound of Springsteen’s hit.
We Are Aerials’ Maps is a touching tribute to McAteer’s father. As personal as the album is, there is still a great deal of connection to everyday life and the North of Ireland. McAteer’s voice, just on the verge of haunting, delivers an indie folk performance that is poetic, harmonious, and reposeful. Maps truly showcases the strengths of this Derry singer-songwriter, and of what this music scene is able to produce as a whole.