Releasing her debut album back in 2017, and earning a Mercury Music Prize nomination, a multidisciplinary artist, musician and writer from County Clare, Mulcahy is one of the most exciting talents to have emerged from Ireland in the past decade. Sub Nubibus Margarita is her fourth album (a literal translation might be beneath a cloud of margarita) and features all the singles released over the past couple of years. Most were reviewed on this site’s Singles Bar columns and more details can be found by searching, but, briefly, Stevo Timothy providing the spoken words, ‘Just An Old Sinner’ is a slow walking number about trying to repress guilt and conscience, ‘Natural Disaster’ a dark fairytale about both the blindness and hope of love backdropped by forlorn Spanish guitar with operatic echoes of Bizet, ‘The Ballad Of Lucy Sands’ recounts the unsolved murder of the titular Irish teenager in 1881 set to spare piano notes, harp and strummed guitar, the slow waltzing ‘The Legend Of Lily Pond Lake’ a whimsical fairytale about the pleasures and peace of being an introvert rather than just one of the crowd and, accompanied by Eamonn deBarra on whistle, the gorgeous Gaelic-sung ‘Cúmha í Ndiaidh Aisling Shéanta’ addressing the grief resulting from hundreds of murdered women in Ireland over three decades.
The other previously released tracks are Sarah Ferrigan on accordion and Eoin O’Neill on bouzouki, ‘Sunken Cemetery 1849’, from the end of 2020 when the album was originally due for release the following year, which, her voice echoing the purity of Sinead O’Connor, is a shimmering beautiful account of the sinking of coffin ship, Hannah, off the coast of Canada, during the Irish famine (“Jesus Christ/Almighty, why/Have you sought/To forsake us/To this tempest?”). And, with its shimmering harp/keys intro and slightly musically reminiscent of ‘Send In The Clowns’, the album opener ‘Spring In Her Step’, a poetic love song (“Replaying minutae of their ardour shared: How he felt,How he smelt/Oh how he loved”) again capturing those hymnal/operatic sensibilities.
The conceit of the album is that it was songs for a one-woman musical, the director’s manual for which Sir Ian McKellen found in an Ennis library, passing it to Orson Welles who asked her to stage a production which was sabotaged by her distracted musical accompanist, Sarah Ferrigan, who wanted to attend a Roger Whittaker Whistleblowing protest. The crowd, however, loved it, but a subsequent argument between the two ended with them falling from the roof and Laura being impaled on the theatre railings, hence this being now credited to Laura Mulcahy RIP.
As such, there’s five previously unheard tracks, the first being the playful hissing percussive ‘Ink Slinger’ with its enigmatic lyrics (“Hinky Punk!/There it goes again/Smudgèd lashes, brushing cloudy portholes”) though the line “Sustained on a diet of my own words” suggests the term referring to a writer rather than its cruder sexual connotation! A hinky punk, by the way is a will o’the wisp, though Harry Potter fans will now it as a one-legged creature that looks as if it is made of smoke and lures travellers into with its lantern.
Played on twinkle-toed piano with a thumping bass drum backdrop, as you might imagine the vocally soaring, marching band rhythm, the loss of innocence-themed ‘I’ve A Feeling We’re Not In Kanas Anymore’ is about Judy Garland (or, as the song reminds, Frances Gumm), her exploitation by a driven mother (“Judy’s mama has one goal…put a price upon/You head tape up your/Tits, all sold”) and the cut-throat industry hamster wheel that drove her to an addiction to pills that led to her a fatal overdose.
Given a jaunty arrangement and a singalong sway, ‘Everything Comes To She Who Waits (Hopefully)’ is a perky song about post-break-up self-deluding optimism (“Clean the kitchen tiles/Ready for the day you/Come back in my open door/And take me to your arms… And if it takes a century/I’ll wait until I disappear”). Again with a steady marching beat and a subtle touch of the Velvet Underground, ‘Bringing Back Socks ‘n’ Sandals’ is especially infectious, though the lyrics have a more serious mien in the way we distract ourselves from the troubles around, the wily wolves in sheep’s clothing and feeling helpless to change things by indulging in surface “stuff and style”, ankle bangles and bling, wringing our hands in podcasts as we join the danse macabre “Round the maypole of oblivion/And we’ll perne in shrinking spirals ever till/We reek of our own arses”.
And, finally, there’s piano, twanged reverb guitar and dreamy cloud surfing feel of ‘Last Known Sighting Of The Lesser Spotted Butterwing’, a musing on mortality (“Salad days demise/Bonny butterfly/When all is done and said/Fold away your wings, don’t sigh”) and a sort of acceptance of but raging against the dying of the light (“Drink a glass of cold comfort with ice/Drink it up -/Savour the flavour of humiliation/Knowing -/There is no such thing as succor from this…So don’t you sigh/Set the whole damn thing on fire”).
Sub Nubibus Margarita is an album of the year to immerse yourself in, allowing the melodies and her wonderful, mesmerising voice wash over you, forget the RIP, Mulcahy is born again.
Artist’s website: www.thelauramulcahy.bandcamp.com
‘Natural Disaster’ – official video: