D Sharpson is Dublin, Ireland’s answer to Belle and Sebastian, if Belle and Sebastian were basically a solo act, a DJ, substantially cheekier, completely into house/techno/disco, and exponentially less twee. Second thoughts, Mr. Sharpson is nothing like Belle and Sebastian at all.
His new EP, Jazz in Germany, explores rhythms and samples in a quirky, fresh, and funky manner that ends up being about 30 minutes of dance revelry that speaks from a modern, Irish club sensibility. He knows his tools well and uses them with a craftsman’s ear. Sharpson then adds a hint of cleverness to his tracks that can’t be ignored yet doesn’t come across as being pretentious.
Sharpson’s musical pedigree includes work with the groups 5th Element and Tooka as well as composing music for the odd short documentary film here and there.
This review will look at songs from his new EP (It was released last month on Fluttertone and is purchasable here
for the phenomenally low price of less than €5.) as well as some other music that Mr. Sharpson has produced lately that seems to flow from the same inspirational moment.
“Baby Don’t Hold Back” yips and reverbs in an almost annoyingly catchy/synthy rhythm as the artist intones his “baby” to “hold meeeee.” In between the monotone, repeated lines, Sharpson creates an incredibly dance-friendly bit of music. This track seems to be the one that will receive the most attention from the EP. (7:17)
“Fat Spider-Man” may seem a little derivative of “Baby Don’t Hold Back” at first, but the track quickly recovers and then it settles into its own cool vibe, invoking scenes of New York City/urban night life. (6:41)
It fits Sharpson’s MO to take something as seemingly pedestrian as Korean language lessons and turn them into danceable, funky music in “Inchon.” But more than that, the Korean phrases that the artist uses here actually create a wistful, almost sad love poem. The phrases, “I miss you,“ “I’m sorry,” “You’re beautiful,“ and, “I love you,“ translated from Korean form the feelings in this track. The distance between the couple in this inter-hemispheric love story seems even more complicated because Sharpson chooses the formal forms of some of the phrases, thus creating even greater distance between the two people. Not on the EP. (2:14)
Sharpson then engages in some social commentary as he seems to great pleasure in poking gentle fun at the inanity of reality TV in “Kinda Classy.” He seems to be telling us that the reality show universe—both “stars“ and fans—should not take themselves too seriously. After all, “reality” TV distorts reality in a way that few genres do. Not on the EP. (2:34)
Sharpson and his chums show their musician chops on “Mr Dubby Cork Boy.” An echo of steel drums introduces this funky gem before the vocals take over. This is the EP’s closest pure disco track, with almost every ‘70s dance music phraseology showcased. The retro vibe works well here when it could’ve been easily and chees-ily employed. 6:16)
“Why Don’t You Come on Out” has the feet tapping from the get go. The incessant, monotonous request of the song’s title drones on in the head long after the music stops. This track, while fun, seems to not match the creative punch of the others. And that’s ok. (4:40)
The title track, “Jazz in Germany” feels like the EP’s most challenging. This comes from an almost violent dissonance in the background of the beat that reminds this listener of a mashup of not only Germany’s wide range of musical styles since World War II (Rock, Industrial, Techno, House, etc), but also of German history in general over the past century. It is blue-collar, heavy, and shocking – – in short, it’s the type of jazz you would expect to have been produced by that country but put to use here in a techno beat. (6:23)
On a personal level, Dónal Sharpson comes from a tightknit family with way too many brothers who all seem to have grown up in a supportive household filled with love and laughter.
And religion. Sharpson studied religion and teaches the subject when he’s not producing music. That’s not hard to believe because he has this cherubic bubbliness about him. He sports a shock of short dark hair and a beard to match, but I suspect that the beard is less a fashion statement and more likely that, perhaps, shaving bores him, and, thus, he simply doesn’t care. It’s not hard to picture him as the whiskey priest in a small parish somewhere in the Irish countryside.
What the beard and ennui can’t hide is the mischievous creativity of an impish school boy whose parents probably got way too many calls from frustrated teachers who simply didn’t know what to do with the intelligent, over-bored kid they found in their charge every day. Lucky for us, the old mischievousness has found its way into his music, and that mentality that probably frustrated his teachers back in the day brings his music sheer joy now.
And that joy’s infectious.