Review: Dermot Kennedy – Mike Dean Presents: Dermot Kennedy

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Light and darkness. Love and loss. Life and death. Soaring Irish artist, Dermot Kennedy, continues to draw from raw, unfiltered human experiences to craft a sound that is both elevating and intimate, stripped-back and explosive on his exceptional self-titled release. However, unlike his debut EP Doves & Ravens, the young singer-songwriter has teamed up with legendary producer, Mike Dean (Kanye West, Jay Z, Travis Scott), to the bring his love for hip-hop to the forefront of his music, while still maintaining his haunting acoustic roots. Packed on top of a 56-date sold-out world tour, this album is the sound of a man stepping into the fullness of his abilities, and it is mesmerising.

‘Young & Free’ is the opening smoke of a hotly-anticipated gig that steals your breath away entirely. The track is an eclectic mix of folk and hip-hop that when collide, create a rich rendition of the chaotic nature of navigating through your youth. The lyrics are clever, vulnerable and captivating, leaving you utterly reminiscent of the past.

The album’s evocative and nostalgic theme spills into ‘Couldn’t Tell’. Yet, unlike the other tracks on his album, Kennedy’s vocals are softer and more careful. His sheer melodic vocals allow for his immense song-writing capabilities to shine through as he juxtaposes changes in seasons and changes in a relationship. It is at his simplest that Kennedy reveals his unwavering depth as an artist.

Sweetly sticking to his origins, Kennedy also features his original single, ‘An Evening I Will Not Forget’ from 2015. However, he graces his listeners with a new ending in the form of ‘Furthest Thing’. The track is stripped to its acoustic origins, rich with piano and Kennedy’s slow-burning vocals. The lyrics are so deeply personal as he digs deep on lines like, “I remember when her heart broke over stubborn things / That’s no way to be living kid, the angel of death is ruthless”. The height of his vocal performance exists as he ends both parts in “I wonder if I could let her down”, sung with a fire so strong it could only be resembled to one-in-a-million vocalists, like Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody. The track exposes a multitude of emotions in the listener, leaving you totally exposed and honest with yourself. It is this raw formula that forces Kennedy’s songs to stay with you long after the first listen.

Kennedy’s honesty doesn’t end there. The release seamlessly flows to ‘Swim Good’, a cover from the idiosyncratic Frank Ocean, which might be one of its most emotive and impactful tracks. Kennedy’s revival of the track showcases his appreciation for the genre of R&B while keeping to his characteristically charming sensibilities. He offers a moody take on the tragedy of a man who, burdened by so many failed relationships, ends his life by driving into the ocean. This track explores the weighted topics of romantic baggage and guilt, which appear to be foundational to Kennedy’s transparency.

The album closes with ‘Moments Passed’, an explosive and infectious force that solidifies Kennedy’s status as a showrunner in the modern music game. Here Mike Dean’s influence on the soulful rock ballad is abundantly clear through edgy vocal loops and electronic beats that underpin an eclectic sound. The track is fuelled with raw and fiery lyricism, and a rough-and-tumble accent that gives us something we haven’t heard before, but something we want to hear over and over again. In true Dermot Kennedy-style, the track reveals the immense beauty and brutality of love but pleads that we should never sacrifice it out of fear.

Dermot Kennedy's release has proven to be one of the most solid musical releases of the year. Each song faultlessly weaves together to create a story of youth, loss and love that will stay with you long after the final track. This is not an album. This is an experience.

Written by Hannah Woodfield

You can listen to Mike Dean Presents: Dermot Kennedy here