Clann Zu – “Crashing to the Floor” (2002)
Clann Zu – “Crashing to the Floor”
Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday honoring the patron saint of Ireland who chased the snakes off the island and replaced it with Christianity. The holiday has evolved over the years, both in Ireland and abroad, to be less religious and more about celebrating Ireland as a whole. In America, that mostly translates to getting housed on Guinness and green-tinted Old Milwaukee or whatever and wearing a green shirt. It’s gotten to the point that every year you hear that this is basically an Americanized “Hallmark Holiday” that is viewed dismissively in Ireland, much like Cinco de Mayo in Mexico. So, I always wondered how true this was. Turns out, it’s probably somewhere in the middle. Dublin marks the holiday with a massive parade that regularly features crowds of half a million people, so there’s clearly some pageantry there. But the shamrock Mardi Gras beads and minty milkshakes, as one would expect, are Americans doing their typical garish approximation of a celebration.
All that said, it gives the world an excuse to celebrate Irish culture, which is certainly worth celebrating. Ireland has given the world so many wonderful contributions: James Joyce, the great sport of hurling, Finn Balor’s abs, and, of course, their music. Ireland has a long history of great music stretching back centuries, with a folk tradition that rivals any in the world. You can hear the joy, pain, and really the entire spectrum of emotion through the vibrant lyricism of Irish folk music, and modern groups like the Dubliners do an excellent job at bringing that sense of vitality to today’s world. But even modern music is loaded with excellent Irish musicians, which brings us to today’s post.
I was considering several topics for discussion today. I thought about the obvious choices, the Dubliners and the Pogues, as they are some of the most iconic Irish musicians in existence. I thought about Thin Lizzy, one of my favorite bands of all-time. Perhaps the Cranberries and the distinctive voice of Dolores O’Riordan (R.I.P.). But I wanted to go off the beaten path for this one. Even then my choices were vast. Do I go with Stiff Little Fingers? What about My Bloody Valentine? I thought about going Irish-American and covering Ted Leo/Pharmacists. Hell, I even thought about Enya, the criminally dismissed New Age legend. But instead, I went way off the beaten path and chose “Crashing to the Floor”, the 2003 song by Clann Zu.
Now, I say this is off the beaten path for a few reasons. First of all, the band itself isn’t exactly a marquee name, even in indie circles. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this band was formed in Melbourne, Australia and not in Ireland proper. However, the front man Declan de Barra was born in Waterford, and the group recorded songs in both English and Irish, so I’m going to roll with it mostly for the sake of variety.
I first heard of Clann Zu from my friend Greg, who has clued me into several bands over the years. There was always something about this group that continued to draw me back in. Not from any outside source really, but out of personal interest. In fact, I’m kind of hard pressed to remember anyone outside of Greg really talking about this band at all both in my personal life and in critical circles. It’s a damn shame because Clann Zu is really good, specifically their 2003 album Rua. In a similar manner to the Pogues, Clann Zu incorporate Irish folk music and instrumentation into their work. However, they opt for a much darker, atmospheric approach that combines Irish folk with electronic and art punk music. The result is a malevolent mix of baleful lamentations, seething menace, and orchestral sorrow. I know I keep banging this drum, but it honestly shocks me how little word of mouth this band has had over the years, especially with my emo lifer friends. While I’m decidedly not one for emo, especially these days, this type of mournful bombast is something I can get behind.
“Crashing to the Floor” is the rare track on Rua that eschews most of the electronics and grandiose instrumentation, instead opting for a more straightforward Celtic punk approach. I think it’s to the song’s credit because this song is a dour kick in the teeth that comes basically at the end of the album. It almost acts as a tonic to the rest of the album, which makes it all the more powerful in context. Right off the rip, you get de Barra howling at you about agony drinking. No instruments, just a man yelling pain at you. But then these violin strains thunder in like they’re about to gore you with the bow. The drums start to hammer with demonic ferocity. Declan’s singing becomes more frayed and unhinged. It feels like you are trapped in this claustrophobic hovel with a raving maniac trying to gavage a bottle of whiskey in order to erase his past, a feeling that I can sadly relate to. It is an entrancing song that I feel more people should listen to for sure. Maybe not the best song for the fun, happy St. Patrick’s Day celebration, but whatever.
Interesting coda to this story: de Barra would record one more Clann Zu record before turning to the world of screenwriting, and has gone on to write for the shows Iron Fist and The Witcher, the latter of which features him singing on the soundtrack. He’s also an animator of some renown, and even did the animated music videos for some of their songs on Rua. Cool stuff. Either way, I hope you check them out, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
Here’s a bunch of hurling highlights because hurling is awesome.
For more short song discussions, check out our post about the song “Zomes”… by the group Zomes… on the album Zomes.