Updated: Oct 18, 2019
Dermot Kennedy possesses one of the strongest and most passionate voices in the industry. Having released a number of singles and EPs since early 2017, the Irish singer songwriter blends folk and electronica to create some incredibly heart-wrenching music. After years of touring countless countries, Kennedy has dropped his much awaited debut album, entitled Without Fear and oh boy, does it live up to its name.
Without Fear is a realisation of adventure and bliss. Dealing with the cycle of love, heartbreak and self-discovery, Kennedy pays tribute to traditional instrumental approaches, whilst also fusing elements of production from trap and dance music. Featuring a couple of refreshed single releases, as well as many new gifts, it is music to listen to on a rainy day, paired perfectly with a good cup of tea and a game of chess. The album turns loss into art, making the taunting topic seem bearable and pleasant, without taking away the authentic and inevitable sting of sadness.
The album begins with ‘An Evening I Will Not Forget’, a mournful, yet hopeful tune that holds an unbelievably nostalgic crackle. You feel what Kennedy is feeling, with the lyrics and vocals bleeding absolute sorrow. With the help of vocoder, an aura of mist and reflection is established and all of a sudden the song is like looking back at something familiar. The production is lush but unobtrusive, like an old memory that lingers at the back of your mind. The mood is deep and warm, passion is reinvigorated, and you realise that the song is so simple, yet so profound. With the tension forever building, the distorted vocals growl as a symbol of love and frustration, creating an environment that is both haunting and soothing. The song breaks you with emotion, like nothing you have ever felt before.
Up next is ‘All My Friends’, a holy and gloried kiss of encouragement. Showcasing new additions of acoustic drums and horns to the already impeccable track, Kennedy proves to be assertive and sure of himself. The vocals bring so much strength and power, and the song becomes a march to a better time. With a soulful combination of electronic and acoustic elements, Kennedy’s sound rings hope and light.
‘Power Over Me’ follows, brining with it the rhythm of a well-loved, classic folk piece. The vocal harmonies send shivers down your spine as the lyrics seem to just drip off his tongue. Powerful piano slams assert dominance and a carefully considered string section adds an emotional flow. Kennedy’s beautiful Irish twang seeps through, and the vocal only bridge is a cry in the dark heard only by you, leaving the song feeling incredibly intimate and engaged.
‘What Have I Done’: a grand gesture in the form of music that acts as a sweet and tender confessional. The track’s minimalism brings the vocals to the foreground, allowing that voice to really soar. The song is a fight for love, using march-like drums and an entrancing melody to send you into a lovestruck spin. It builds up to an explosion of sound and emotion, like the coming together of souls, as the subtle and magical harmonies bring the piece to life.
‘Moments Passed’ follows on and begins with a series of vocal chops. Like a broken record that you want to listen to, the sounds pan and build, and you know you are in for something strong. This intermittent rhythm continues throughout, creating an atmosphere of spirit and grief. The sound of the tambourine pulses like a metallic heartbeat as Kennedy cries to the heavens. Like a leap of faith, the music is a journey lead by the song’s bridge, bringing you away, and then back again. Lyrical repetition pleads for attention, and you feel the pull of love as a natural force.
Complex, layered and tied together with the cyclical folk guitar plucking we arrive at ‘The Corner’. The thumping bass drum anticipates something more, like the run towards a warm embrace with an intimate familiarity that feels as if it’s a poem about someone you used to know.
‘Lost’ features the encouragement of a pushy piano, the echo of backing vocals and a chorus that feels like the light within the dark. It is momentous and triumphant, with a thumping synth that changes both mood and outlook. Like a grand love song, Kennedy’s vocals shine positivity on even in the darkest moments of life.
Following on is ‘Rome’, carrying you off into a romantic dream, this track is a happy and blissful recount of love, featuring a voice spilling with adoration. It is a reflective ballad, the piano is caressed and carries the piece on its melodic trip.
‘Outnumbered’ starts with the folky strum of a guitar. Like an aural version of a hug, the vocals are rich with passion and the lyrics pick you up from even your lowest point. With a feeling of authenticity and devotion, the song is like hearing a piece of someone’s heart. It is a cry to a lover, friend or brother, reaching out to give a helping hand in any time of need.
Featuring vocals rich with pain and pleasure, the gorgeous ‘Dancing Under Red Skies’ introduces a string arrangement that tugs at the heartstrings. With layered vocals adding texture and depth, creating an aura of mystery and desire that connect with the piece’s caring and genuine themes, Kennedy is certainly one endearing and well-spoken man.
Kennedy’s trap and pop influences are clearly seen in ‘Outgrown’. Synth speckles that patter like raindrops on a window, and combined with long vocal trails that demand attention, Kennedy keeps you captivated from start to finish.
The penultimate ‘Redemption’ boasts a soul influenced, grand and loud piece composed of vocals doubled with brassy synths and strings. Gushes of sound reflect the flowing of emotion and power, as pain turns to acceptance. The song makes you feel better with its bright, upbeat tone, and deals with the tough topic of closure.
‘Without Fear’, a track reminiscent of the early Ellie Goulding days, is the final piece of the album puzzle. White noise and vocal layering builds an intense feeling of anticipation, being released in an acceptance finality. Like a book’s closing comments, the song is tranquil and accepting with a voice that echoes endlessly. Passionate and exciting with a feature of vibrant strings, it’s a climactic and satisfying end to Kennedy’s epic.
If you have yet to be floored by Dermot Kennedy’s indescribable vocal ability, your mind and your heart are missing out. Without Fear is not only good for your ears, but good for your soul. Understanding and understated, Kennedy’s music proves that passion is power. Go listen, feel inspired, welcomed and at peace.
"machine-polished moments can’t deny the raw humanity or that colossus of a voice" - The Guardian