As its title suggests, this sumptuous, riveting debut from the Irish songwriter Aoife Nessa Frances explores life’s challenges—the kinds of situations that have no clear solution or path forward. She sets these unflinching examinations of existential roadblocks against a rich palette of crashing drums, sweeping guitars, dramatic strings, and her own cascading voice, providing a balm for the heartbreak at hand. She has a spectacular collaborator in multi-instrumentalist and co-producer Cian Nugent; together, they frame her world-weary narratives in a wide range of dazzling and detailed settings. Opening track “Geranium” embraces a skeletal drum machine and a slight, glimmering guitar figure before blossoming gently outwards with the aid of a laconic lap steel. “Here In The Dark” hums along like an apolitical cousin of “Karma Police,” complete with a plunking bass and murmurs of atmospheric noise. The elegiac title track floats on a magic carpet of viola, courtesy of Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh, while “Libra” offers an unexpected slice of jittery surf-rock.
Yet it is Frances’ majestic voice, commanding and pained in equal measure, that elevates these songs to the realm of the sublime. In her eyes, hearts are “elastic,” and nothing is certain. “All our answers have disappeared,” she sings on “Libra,” effectively summarizing the terror of living on shaky ground. On “Blow Up,” she is, simply, “tired of being human,” and later, when she opens her eyes in the dark of morning, yearning for clarity, “my eyes can’t see what I feel.”
Cynics are often characterized as disgruntled optimists; throughout Land of No Junction, Aoife Nessa Frances highlights both her aspirations, and her hurt, with a singular grace. Her magnificent songwriting only makes those peaks feel higher, and the valleys lower.