This is an album that feels conceptually plucked out of thin air. That’s to say, nothing about Fontaines D.C. up to this point has positioned their frontman as any kind of ‘breakout star’. Among the sheer mass of their material and perennially upwards climb on the post-punk ladder, Grian Chatten with his stone stature and acerbically Irish voice have never felt solely responsible for any of that. But apparently this is a result of his own creative overspill rather than any conscious solo emergence, a zig compared to his band’s next zag.
There’s obviously creative health to take into account with that. Fontaines D.C. have been extremely prolific over the course of their short tenure—three full-lengths since 2019—but the direct decision to have Chaos For The Fly sit independent of that is notable. As is its presentation, as a generally understated album anchored in singer-songwriter traditionalism that curtails any worry of Chatten getting lost. When it’s accompanied by that voice and that writing style, it adds up to a milestone moment for Chatten, regardless of how it compares to its step-siblings.
It’s mostly a case of the impression that Chaos For The Fly sets up. As a technical singer, Chatten still isn’t very good—he’s heavied and drawling and very limited in range—but there’s palpable honesty among it. When the album begins with The Score and its spidery, almost hypnagogic acoustic plucks, there’s really no room to hide, and all available space goes to forming a platform for Chatten’s winding poetry. Here, the opportunity to lean into romanticism and vulnerability presents itself a lot more, on songs like Fairlies and Salt Throwers Of A Truck in which the monolithic slabs of post-punk have absconded completely. And it’s fascinating to hear where Chatten goes with that. Bob’s Casino blends it into a glossy lounge number befitting of latter-day Arctic Monkeys if they actually showed some application; All Of The People, meanwhile, comes directly after as a solemn piano-ballad at the album’s centre.
There’s are certain points where these songs do show the potential to be repurposed into full-band efforts, but honestly, that would lose some of what Chatten brings on his own terms. And this is on his own terms, too; nothing about Chaos For The Fly feels compromised. If it were, the knots would be less prominent and its shaggy edges would be trimmed and cleaned way more. Particularly on the acoustic playing and how it clashes with stiffer percussion on Last Time Every Time Forever or I Am So Far, this doesn’t feel buffed or well-rounded to any degree. It’s got more of a bedroom-pop feel to at times, albeit more burdened by the weight of experience it carries. And that’s definitely a good juncture for Chatten to throw towards, and for songs like Fairlies with its Celtic thrum, or East Coast Bed that strives for blurred-over dream-pop, the benefit does show.
None of that makes it a particularly easy album to dissect either, but that’s par for the course at this point. Chatten is no stranger to obtuse, unpredictable music with Fontaines D.C., and it’s a quality that’s baked deep into Chaos For The Fly. It’s deliberately unrefined and strange, unable to plot a straight course but languishing in every detour and stray sight it catches. It’s also just interesting that Chatten has actually put out an album like this under his own name, to welcome such dissection and comparisons with his main band willfully. But it all pays off and circles back to something pretty cool in the end. It definitely won’t pull in everyone; at the same time, it’s not hard to see the exact spots where its intended audience will absolutely adore it. Regardless, Chatten’s new layers are on full display, and they present a lot to dig into.
For fans of: Fontaines D.C., Bob Dylan, The Murder Capital
‘Chaos For The Fly’ by Grian Chatten is released on 30th June on Partisan Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall