Photo by Bríd O’Donovan
By Clare Martin
Fears’ debut album Oíche (Irish for “night”) is the culmination not just of over five years’ work, but also several chapters of the artist’s life experiences. All musicians are vulnerable to a certain extent; the act of sharing art is braver than we often acknowledge. Constance Keane, who performs as Fears, takes this vulnerability to a whole new level, though, processing her own trauma over the course of the record and tacitly inviting us to do the same.
Opener “h_always” documents her stay at a psychiatric hospital with evocative details: “I shower with one hand / There’s no taps / No hooks and no stands.” Gently plucked guitar kicks off the song and deep, heartbeat-like bass joins in later, thumping in the background. There’s a fuzzy hum in the distance that gives the track a very literal sense of place, as it was written and recorded in the hospital’s music room on her MacBook’s mic. The Shankill native told Get In Her Ears of the song, “I haven’t even tried to re-record it. I don’t want to. I just like it left that way.” Fears’ choice to leave the original recording as is and the track itself set the tone for Oíche as an album that proves both intensely introspective and a skilful piece of experimental electronic music.
Fears’ production on the album is a well-crafted balancing act, introducing a whole host of elements but with a delicate hand so that they never become oversaturated. She intentionally loops guitar melodies, synths, and other components of the tracks to reflect her own thinking processes, as she explained to Get In Her Ears: “I tried to create a sonic landscape that reflects what’s going on in my head at the time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to write really upsetting guitar lines, it’s more to do with when I’m in a certain headspace, I get very repetitive intrusive thoughts.” The looped parts of her songs hypnotically draw us into Fears’ private world.
The incredible amount of thought that went into each track is evident, from the lyrics to Fears’ gauzy vocal performance to the stirring production. “Fabric,” which she explains is about “trying to escape someone or something that will not give you room to breathe,” manages to be both dance-worthy and contemplative. “You keep pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing,” Fears sings over a minimalist beat, the repetition showing just how trapped she feels, before singing plaintively, “Just let me live.” Those last four words return later, but deep and distorted, conveying quite literally what it’s like to lose your own voice.
The following song, “vines,” explores how repressing trauma comes back to haunt you. A hollow beat and rattling drum machine fill the background before Fears tells us, “I dug that hole, I buried those seeds / Now they’ve grown to fully fledged vines / That strangle / The good in my day.” She decides to make a change, declaring before the song ends, “I don’t want to live my life like this.”
Fears moves on to “dents,” which is about both reckoning with her struggles and the desire not to make trouble that’s unfortunately been ingrained in women for centuries. “I’m so sorry for the mess I made,” she laments. Even in her darkest moments, Fears feels the need to apologise for herself. This is followed by one of my favourite lines on the album, ruminating on compartmentalisation and the slow, nonlinear process of healing: “I learned to forgive myself / Take a little piece and fold it gently / Grip tight and hug my knees.”
The interlude of “Brighid,” a sweet home recording of Fears’ sister and late grandmother chatting, sets us up for the emotional tidal wave of “tonnta.” The track follows her relationship with her granny, who had dementia, and the love that remains even as the disease progresses. “Your eyes they still listen / Your heart I still live in,” Fears imparts lovingly. She chants “Tonnta” on the chorus in her honeyed voice, like some kind of primal prayer.
Fears fittingly ends Oíche with the most hopeful track, “two_.” The synth is at its most uplifting, and in the lyrics she credits her family for helping her recover. Her voice is gossamer-y, but strong in its own way. Fears reminds us that trauma doesn’t magically disappear overnight, and that we will carry its scars with us always, even years after healing: “The lines on my legs / Tell a story of a time when I spent / Too long hating myself from the outside in.” Thanks to her, though, we can realise that these scars aren’t something to be ashamed of, but a source to draw strength from. Fears has seen dark times and come out on the other side, ready to share her story. We’re lucky just to get to listen to it.