The first time I met Joel Harkin was during his and Cloakroom Q.’s term as part of Scratch My Progress in 2019. I’d invited myself to some jars with the boys in the Harp Bar (mind that, “pints?”) and suffice to say I was immediately struck by this lad’s magnetic charisma and gift of the gab. Eventually, Bright Eyes came up, and Joel began to wax emphatically about his love for Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, Conor Oberst’s foray into signature sad folk marinated in electronica.
Comparisons to Conor are tried and true, but trite and not new. Joel has pioneered his own home-brewed blend of blissed-out major 7th chords and disillusioned 20-something’s delivery; and another helping is dessert for your ears.
Now, Joel Harkin is no stranger to electronic music, sure, his side project uladh. got quare traction with his remix of Joshua Burnside’s “The Only Thing I Fear” not a wee while ago. In spite of this, a crackling smile of sparks shorted on my face when first hearing “DARK”: the first single from a brand spanking new album to celebrate the first birthday of Joel’s first child Never Happy on May 19th.
Production-wise, there’s a wonderful dichotomy between the inhuman and the human. Phased and reversed pulses of guitar and robotic percussion (sounds like deodorant sprayed in time) coupled with ringing synth surges generates a computerised claustrophobia in which samples of a tender exchange between Joel and his partner Deirdre waltz like fading memories. Truly touching stuff.
Bitter as burnt coffee and sour as sucking a lemon, “DARK”’s lyrics are somehow more sardonic than cuts like “No Recycling” or “Old Churches”. “There’s some people I’d like to speak to/If they don’t know it’s me that’s speaking” is a troubled first line that encapsulates the miasma of guilt and unsettling shame that comes with bottling up frustration. This is a song to stare into nothing to.
Joel Harkin can add another notch to his undefeated run of synonym-for-sad litanies. Ironically, they’re a joy to listen to.