Fontaines D.C., a rare punkish art-rock group that cites James Joyce and The Godfather as equal inspirations, sprung out of Ireland last year with a smart, upbeat set of songs on their debut, Dogrel. Frontman Grian Chatten’s stentorian raving (and his Irish accent) sliced right through the group’s jitterbugging power chords and convulsing rhythms. They owed obvious debts to the Fall and Gang of Four, but something about the obvious smirk with which Chatten sang a line like, “If you’re a rock star, porn star, superstar, doesn’t matter who you are/Get yourself a good car and get out of here” on that album’s “Boys in the Better Land” that made them feel fresh.
They mostly keep pace on their second album, A Hero’s Death, which they mustered in just about a year after Dogrel, but they’ve also grown up a bit and have added a bit of welcome space to their previously too-tight arrangements. The group balances mania (“Life ain’t always empty,” Chatten sings on the title track, amid girl-group–style backup vocals by his male bandmates) and more ponderous fare (“I don’t wanna belong to anyone,” goes one line on the brooding LP opener “I Don’t Belong”) on the record, and Chatten still bursts with character, regardless of the setting. Although they indulge more textures this time (“A Lucid Dream” would be positively psychedelic were it not for the singer’s forceful delivery, and “Oh, Such a Spring” echoes the Smiths, Mazzy Star, and evening the Zombies in its guitar harmonies), they don’t stray so far from Dogrel’s art-punk blueprint to the point of losing themselves. It’s just that the palette is wider and more pronounced. If anything, their chiming, noisy guitars and messy arrangements only fit their highfalutin aspirations even better.