For the record, the Vickers Vimy was a First World War bomber originally manufactured in County Mayo, Ireland and was the first aircraft to fly non-stop across the Atlantic. It’s also the name of this band of Galway alt-Celtic freewheelers, adopted to drive the patriotic point home. It wasn’t necessary. This collection of bittersweet jigs and ballads may embrace the vivid cinematics and vast soundscapes of faraway lands, but scratch the surface and it’s as green as the shamrock of The Emerald Isle itself.
In this era of sweeping artistic autonomy it’s not uncommon for the bands to perform many of the tasks traditionally left to the attention of the labels and so it goes here. One hundred percent artistic freedom including self-production by VV sees the listener carried away to a shimmering desert in opener ‘The Bonfire of Dantes,’ sombreros, tequila and trumpets providing the sonic backdrop for a bombastic tale of pharaohs and lost priests in hell. So far so…unusual. A mandolin lick beside a weeping fiddle brings us back to reality for the more forthright yarn of stormy nights at sea in ‘Chicago’ before we’re off on our travels again, this time to ‘Budapest’ and an evocative romantic piano-led ballad inspired by a train journey made from Budapest to Venice by lead vocalist Ed Drea and you’re thinking shamrocks? Emerald Isle? And it’s true that ‘Atlas Of Hearts’ is a broad church but, like Irish football fans at the world cup, it’s roots are unmistakable.
‘Mermaid Of Luna Park’ is sterling Gaelic-tinted folk-rock that conjures images of impish young Leonardo de Caprio types in flat caps sailing off from Galway Bay to New York to live the American Dream and hints at The Levellers meets REM. The title track finds us back in central Europe, this time Prague and the unique lyrics-of-the-ancients style prose of VV are anchored by a traditional bodhran and the surreal atmospherics are at their strongest; like a special effects master with no gadgets they manipulate their instruments to create their mood, “Four seasons in one day.”
Interspersed here and there throughout ‘Atlas Of Hearts’ is the sound of a needle scraping across vinyl, a recurring theme and a subject obviously close to this band’s heart considering the previous (debut) album was called ‘That Vinyl Scratch’. ‘Red Moon Rising’ is another standout track which features distinctly non-trad Irish lyrical contributions such as “Bereft of hope/The disembodied scream/Sidewinder recoils as/An apparition of Harpies/Come to lament his ghost”. Don’t worry I don’t know either, just go with it. The final song is the first single and with ‘Keep your Eye On The Road’ VV are quite possibly playing it safe for the first time on disc. A straight Americana duet, acoustic guitar, piano and brass, they will look to use this as a key to open up a wider audience having been known more for their support slots up until now.
Not for the faint of heart ‘Atlas Of Hearts’ pushes boundaries and challenges the conventions of popular Irish folk. It’s outlandish, it’s multi-sourced and it’s big in the mix. Yes, It’s definitely Irish, just not as we know it…