In a time where gathering down at the local pub has become a depressingly distant memory, Irish folk singer and songwriter, Joshua Burnside, doesn't seem to mind. Mainly because he doesn't need to tread on a well-worn hardwood floor ringed with beer stains, or squeeze into a tight spot at the end of an unsettlingly sticky vinyl booth in order to feel fully immersed in its frenzied yet warm energy. For that, he has his music. Most notably his newly released album, Into the Depths of Hell.
Much like his Northern Ireland Music Prize winning 2017 debut album, Into the Depths of Hell delves deep into influences explored meticulously for extended periods of time. But while EPHRATA was born out of a strange, colourfully vibrant stay in Colombia, his sophomore record is manifested by a much quieter inner voice, dusting off the cobwebs around it as it gallantly sidles up to the microphone. Burnside seems almost entranced with every-day objects around him: overheard conversations, startling sounds, and always not too far off—the unstoppable chatter of a weary mind.
"Whiskey Whiskey" grapples with the sordid battle of using self-medication— "so if there’s nowhere for our souls to go then I don’t want to be so-sober"—while facing your own mortality (said to be written on a flight as he tried to find a coping method for his fear of flying). Death, in fact, makes a recurring appearance in many of Burnside's intimate lyrics, with "'til eventually all of our smiling skeletons are gently uncovered by smiling Americans / And all is explained, why we came to such unfortunate endings" burning a hole through the gently strummed guitar on "Driving Alone in the City at Night" as he attempts to find a more poetic meaning to it all.
Though his provocative storytelling contributes heavily to his magnetism, he punches through the four walls where it is usually kept, letting it breathe in the constantly changing air as it accompanies him across bustling cities, deafeningly silent wooded roads, and even a familiar corner in a cherished room. At times, it gets drowned out by the environment it's forced into: industrial trills and blaring horns setting up a background noise so obtrusive on "I Saw the Night," it eventually sneaks into your own stream of consciousness, settling in like a stubborn splinter. But at others, it is cherished, upheld by the golden standard of a telling Irish folk song. "Will You Go or Must I" plays on this intimacy, gathering you round a beloved piano, drink in hand as you smirk at your friends standing by, mouthing the words along. The instrumentation is moving, and deeply profound, but it is also bare and honest. There is no concern here for bleached recordings or meticulous mastering. Instead, it is personal and loud, made to sound like it's being played for you right where you are, not for casual radio play, and not for stadium arenas, but just for you, whenever you most need it.
A dizzying effort from the Belfast native, Into the Depths of Hell dissects every fear, doubt, and wandering thought he's ever had, before stitching it back together carefully to let it begin its healing process. A record that will surely follow you wherever you may go, even if it is indeed down into the very depths of hell.