Telefís ‘a Dó’ (Dimple Discs)

“My progress has been fitful,” Cathal Coughlan once said of his career. In the Irish songwriter’s life, there were certainly “anti-career” moments. His original band Microdisney supported David Bowie in concert then immediately split up. He shoved a Virgin Mary souvenir up his backside in a typically riotous performance with The Fatima Mansions. And as Bubonique, he recorded an album called ‘Trance Arse Volume 3’ with the comedian Sean Hughes. Now that’s a career.

A year ago, Coughlan teamed up with seasoned producer Jacknife Lee to give us Telefís. Their first album, ‘a hAon’, distilled Irish pop culture through ballsy electropop. Always with a glint in its eye too, on track titles like ‘Archbishop Beardmouth At The ChemOlympics’ and ‘Sex Bunting’. What a hammer blow to lose Coughlan to a long illness just a couple of months after that debut’s release. “Cathal’s dying was always a part of these songs,” says Lee of this follow-up album.

‘a Dó’ begins with the same incantation as the first album, ‘Seo É Glór Na Teilifíse’ (‘This Is The Voice Of Television’). Coughlan’s voice is indeed characterful enough for broadcast, almost like a cartoon narrator. The spirit of the Flash animation series ‘Weebl And Bob’ is alive and well. On ‘Swinging At The Hypnodrome’, Coughlan tells a tale of a live performance that sounds several degrees of wrong. The song’s mythical gig is brilliantly teased at the start of the track, quickly ambushed by a farty bass stomp. ‘Hare Coursing In Mayfair’ has a colourful narrative about what might be urban looting or a high street safari hunt. The storytelling is tantalising and surreal, a sort of ‘Jacknife-anory With Cathal’.

The partnership between Coughlan and Lee is such a creative cauldron, the introduction of guest musicians seasons the mix rather than changes the flavour altogether. Sean O’Hagan, an old Microdisney mate and contributor to Coughlan’s last solo album, joins them on the surprisingly summery pop anthem ‘Space Is Us’. Its rhyming dictionary verses are a delight – I’ve never heard “Sauron’s Eye” matched with “decentralised” before. Manc legends A Certain Ratio, meanwhile, are deployed on ‘Stock Photo Guy’. The track is whispery and anxious, its subterranean boogie of a bassline ratcheted taut by tremulous brass.

Echo & The Bunnymen’s Will Sergeant turns up on ‘The Age Of Cling’. This album highlight sees a low-burning candle of a beat flare into a glorious pub lock-in singalong. “Sing, sing! Whistle and grin!” declare the lyrics. “Try not to think of the peril you’re in!” Beer flows as the world burns. Easily done when the electro groove is so irresistible.

The least surprising guest musician is Jah Wobble. Not a criticism. It’s just that there’s so much delicious bass on ‘a Dó’ that by the time the PiL plucker makes his cameo on piratical folk anthem ‘Circling Over Shannon’, it feels less like a guest turn and more like a summoning of the most obvious spirit ever. With the occasional drunken diversion, it’s the album’s most boisterous track. A slurred line states its inspiration as the late Irish country music legend “Big” Tom McBride.

A personal highlight is ‘Strawboy Supernova’, in which squirrelly bass beds the story of its titular boys “cruising Ibiza, clad in their organic kit… gobbling pills like sultanas”. Extra points for deftly rhyming “car” with “Ford Anglia”. It’s a post-punk strut with revved-up repetition, and how I would have loved to have seen Coughlan do this live.

With the greatest of respect to Jacknife Lee, whose technical flair and sparky electronics make both Telefís albums fly, the focus on ‘a Dó’ is squarely on Coughlan, with the softest moments saved for the second half. ‘Feed The Light’ finds him in tentative crooner mode, cushioned by warm strings. On this and the closing ‘On A Country Road’, he sounds as Nick- Cave-ish as he ever does, his voice clad in funereal black. But don’t be misled – these more contemplative moments are no schmaltzy goodbye.

At their heart, Telefís are bold and daft. What a tease to place the haunting ‘We See Showbands’, a close-mic visionary interlude, next to the Numan-esque synths of ‘The Carthaginians’, complete with showy backing vocals reminiscent of the atmospheric chorus work on ‘Ballytransnational’ from ‘a hAon’. To produce these textural variations with such ease is testament to a partnership that will be sorely missed.

From Virgin Mary souvenirs to this. If Coughlan has had an anti-career of fitful progress (he hasn’t), this album isn’t playing by the rules. His and Lee’s collaborative swansong is a boisterous lock-in, and we’re not leaving just yet.

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