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Galway-based composer and singer Anna Mullarkey bridges the gap between Irish traditional music and ambient sounds of the future, all while telling stirring, intimate stories.
While this is her first LP record, Anna is far from a newcomer on the Irish music scene. She released her debut EP Spéir in 2020. The Irish Times wrote that it would be “hard not to be impressed” by Anna’s talent, and Irish Theatre Magazine hailed her as “if a sultry ménage of Björk/Billie Holiday/Philip Glass got together at the Wickerman Festival.” She’s previously composed music for plays, short films, and documentaries, including TG4’s intro theme to Cumasc: seisiúin sa Black Gate. Anna weaves a rich tapestry of sound with her honeyed vocals and delicate compositions, transporting listeners instantaneously. Instead of soundtracking others’ stories, though, Falling is a chance for Anna to explore the many facets of human connection and “how we fall in and out of love.”
This love isn’t restricted to romance; the opening track ‘Call It’ touches on a friendship break-up. The liquidy production of Frankie J Pollard evokes the lapping of water on a beach, while a smattering of piano, flute, flutes, double bass, fiddle, and harp flit in and out of the track. Just like these waves of sound, friendships are changeable, subject to their own tides and currents and sometimes ebbing out of our lives.
Anna also found inspiration in the popular Netflix show Stranger Things, with ‘The Upside Down’ documenting what it would be like to travel to another dimension because you are “hopelessly in love” with someone. Swelling, distorted vocals give the sense that you’re on your own immersive journey to The Upside Down. The album, which was recorded between the Beekeepers in County Clare and Black Gate Studio in her native Galway, also gave Anna the chance to revisit ‘Damhsa Mall,’ a song originally commissioned for Samhlú-Croí Cruthaitheach. Anna’s voice is dreamy over the steady drone of the accordion. “I wanted to celebrate my partner’s grandmother and her love story,” Anna says. “The song is written from her perspective as she recounts a night where she was brought to a dance on a bicycle wearing a pretty dress as the stars lit up the sky.”
The album’s heart is ‘Holding,’ which pays homage to Anna’s folk music roots and was written for her mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It’s a song about finding the strength to be the support for someone else,” Anna explains. Over melodic piano, she implores us to have hope and hold on in the face of adversity. Banjo, bodhrán, cello, and drums rise in the background, likewise lifting up the listener’s spirits.
In the second half of Falling, Anna ruminates on the darker side of love, whether deciding to walk away from a toxic relationship on ‘Tough Love’ or realising a romance has died on the lead single ‘Falling Apart.’ The music video for ‘Falling Apart,’ directed by Anna’s sister Mia Mullarkey, explores this narrative through contemporary dance with dancers Robyn Byrne and Emily Kilkenny Roddy as a couple as they find themselves both bound together while growing in different directions. ‘Please’ is a haunting plea for authenticity, built around a string quartet performed by Ciara O’Connor on cello and violin. Anna shows off her versatility on ‘Ar Buile’ (roughly translating to ‘Furious’ in Irish) by blending trip-hop with acid drum and bass. Predominantly as Gaeilge, she sings about exhaustion and anger as a fuzzy, lo-fi bassline throbs in the background.
The song ‘Uisce’ was originally written for the VR theater show Ar Ais Arís by Brú Theater, featured as part of the Galway 2020 / NUIG Aistriú project. Shimmering, cascading piano entrances the listener before turning somber. “I was moved by the poem by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill ‘Cuimhne an Uisce,’ which explores identity and place,” Anna shares. “This song brings the album to a more intimate place and explores the heartbreak that happens when you reject parts of yourself. Having grown up in Inishturk for a year when I was young, the theme of the sea has a strong effect on me and I love how this poem brings the sea to life in a new way.”
As the album comes to a close, Anna sings us to ‘Sleep.’ The hypnotic track is anything but lethargic, though, with thumping percussion and playful flute driving the listener to the dancefloor. Anna leaves us with a sense of hope “as night becomes day.”