M(h)aol – ‘Gender Studies’

By Fiachra Johnston

To the outside world, Ireland often has something of an idyllic image to it but there’s as much of an unspoken side to this country as anywhere – in its history and in the present day. For M(h)aol, their first debut EP provides ample opportunity to explore this side of the island, and the result, ‘Gender Studies’, has quite the edge to it, both in sound and subject. Recorded remotely between Dublin and Bristol in just 3 days, and with topics swaying from anathema in the industry to historical abuse in Ireland, M(h)aol’s debut is a harsh but strongly personal and purposeful one.

The titular track ‘Gender Studies’ is drenched in derision, an offbeat punkish opener describing the evolution of gender and intersectional feminism that’s led by the mockingly punkish spoken word lyricism from lead vocalist Róisín Nic Ghearailt. It contrasts the despicably dark, ‘Desperation’, whose threatening aura is driven instead by some seriously heavy bass and distorted guitar lines. The short ‘Kinder Bueno’, presents a sardonic personal aside in a way only Irish musicians can, as it leads into ‘Laundries’, a grim reflection on the Magdalene laundries featuring rough screams from Nic Ghearailt and a nihilistic statement of, “History repeats, we know it will”. It’s a standout among the EP’s six tracks, one that captures M(h)aol’s particular brand of anger rather well and takes the most advantage of the garage band sound the short and remote production leans into.

‘No One Ever Talks To Us’ details the struggles of a primarily female band in the male dominated scene, the eponymous line repeated to idiosyncratic guitars, and featuring noisey choruses that briefly hint at the more explosive side of the band (a side that is hopefully explored further in future outings). ‘Oró, Sé Do Bheatha Bhaile’, however, closes the EP not on a furious note, but a sinister one, an Irish folk tale of Gráinne Mhaol filled with dark ambience that warps it into a sailor’s warning of impending revenge. It’s a spine tingling conclusion that, in an EP harshly critical of the treatment of women both past and present, promises a foreboding future.

Short and not-so-sweet, ‘Gender Studies’ is gritty, single-minded post-punk for a modern Ireland. Its uncomfortable subject matters, mixed with noisy, erratic instrumentation and often coarse vocals, make for a brutish but brilliant first extended showing for the quintet. If you’re feeling morose and need something to keep your temper and the tempo up, M(h)aol have the venom to keep you going.

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

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