Clann Zu – Rua

Allow me to be the first person to admit that I have my foot planted firmly in my mouth after having played Clann Zu’s Rua disc about 30 times in the past six days. Allow me to apologize profusely to Declan de Berra for the little joke asides I made to people about the “Amish-looking beard and sweater” he sports in the band photo I’ve seen. Allow me to hang my head in shame at all of the 311 and Limp Bizkit one-liners I made at the expense of Clann Zu after I’d read that members of the band were once a part of the Australian rap-metal act Non-International Lifeform. Allow me to say that after only one listen, I’d realized that resistance was futile, because Rua completely and totally owned me.
It was the last 90 seconds of “Words for Snow” that beat me into submission, as the song’s evolving bed of voices and lulling, Godspeed You Black Emperor!-esque violins finally exploded into an aggressive bed of guitars and rage. I actually felt my heart begin to race as de Barra’s vocals turned from lyrics into a ragged spoken word and finally, an irrational and desperately brash declaration, “…And he cried out, ‘For Christ’s sake, help me! For Christ’s sake, get me out of here! God of all sick things, get me the f@ck out of here!'” At the end of the song, I was floored – Clann Zu had made me its bitch approximately four-and-a-half minutes into this disc. Yowza.
While “Words for Snow” is hands down the most impressive track on Rua (if for nothing else than its disgustingly insane intensity level), this entire disc as a whole is an interesting and fairly unique listening experience. Clann Zu takes elements of traditional Irish “drinking music” (as I so lovingly refer to it) and meshes it with a combination of aggressive guitar rock, electronic/techo backbeats, and contemporary songwriting sensibilities. The result is actually a distinctively ‘alternative’ sound that’s as much contemporary rock as it is traditional Irish.
The one thing that really gives this album its easily identifiable sound is the violin playing. Throughout the entire album, the tone and inflection in the violin evokes powerful swells of emotion that mirror and amplify the lyrical content and song swells. Both the tone of the violin and its liberal use over the course of the album evokes images of the Dirty Three and Godspeed You Black Emperor! (with the incredibly intense and emotional nature of Rua‘s music drawing even more indirect GYBE comparisons), although Clann Zu really sounds nothing like either of those bands overall.
“Words for Snow” kicks the album off by nailing the pissed-off-and-bitter rock song mold, but the rest of the album varies, tossing out everything from U2-level ‘pop with substance’ and slow, sweet-sounding ballads to good old Irish drinking romps. Speaking of Irish drinking romps, “Crashing to the Floor,” might be the second-best track here, as de Barra’s vocals puncutate musical drop-outs in a very powerful manner before the full track falls together. Even then, the combination of the vocals and the lively violin drives the track incessantly over a simple, but surprisingly strong acoustic guitar-led rhythm backing. Rua contains a copy of the very cool animated video for “Five Thousand More,” as well – both the lyrical content and the musical tone of the song gave me the feeling that I could be listening to Serj Tankian of System of a Down singing over GYBE covering the Kronos Quartet’s theme from Requiem for a Dream while DJ Shadow did the beats (and yes, it all comes together to sound even cooler than the description might lead folks to believe).
The ballads here are both plentiful and quality. The amazing “Lights Below” follows in the vein of bands like Mogwai, and the opening is almost tear-jerking, as a deep, bassy synth line backs more gorgeous violins as de Barra whispers, “Let’s get out of here now.” The grandiose “You’re Listening to a Dead Man Speak” closes the album with six-plus minutes of intense balladry, closing the album with the couplet, “I never learned from my mistakes / I should have f@ckin’ known / A single touch to make me week / You’re listening to a dead man speak.”
The sounds of Rua are familiar, indeed, but this particular combination of them makes for a wonderfully unique album. If I had to guess, I’d wager that Clann Zu means “intense as bloody hell” in Irish. Rua is easily the most aggressively and intensely beautiful album I’ve heard since the self-titled City of Caterpillar disc. Recommended – get this at any cost.