Dermot Kennedy’s self-titled debut album was a gorgeous exploration of vulnerability and power


The first time I heard Dermot Kennedy sing, I was dumbstruck. Never had I heard such an infectious song. Of course, at the time, I had no idea who the singer was or what the song was titled. Nevertheless, the song followed me for days. I was hearing it in my sleep and humming the tune wordlessly in my waking hours.

Weeks later while I was on the search for new music, I careened into this obscure artist named Dermot Kennedy. On a whim, I clicked the third song down titled “Moments Passed.” The song began with a weird gibberishI later discovered were in fact wordsthat almost had me turning off the song. It suddenly cut off into an abrasive silence. Kennedy’s voice filled the room, and I scrambled for my phone. This was the song clinging to me like a second skin, the ghost haunting me.

And the rest of his self-titled debut album was just as chilling, and I mean chilling in the best possible way, almost like that shiver that tumbles through you as something resonates in your soul or that small quiver right before something exciting happens.

Kennedy’s first album is a collection of singles released throughout the past four years, as well as one new song called “For Island Fires and Family.” Despite being released over such a long period of time, their style and substance are consistently stellar and cohesive.

The thing that originally caught my attention and persuaded me to listen to the rest of the album was Kennedy’s voice. He has the voice of an earthquake: powerful and trembling. This metaphor sparked in me the second I heard “For Island Fires and Family.” It had this strong but also pitiful and meager essence to it that was captivating.

The more I listened, the more I realized that I had only scratched the surface with my first assessment. Kennedy’s gorgeous voice rasps with raw emotion, and yet somehow, it sounds pure and melodic. “Glory” showcases this especially well as he belts out the chorus.

Because of this aspect of his voice, everything Kennedy sings feels personal and intrusive, as if you accidentally walked in on two people having an intense moment. However, Kennedy and his music don’t stop there. Every song feels like a release. He allows himself to be vulnerable. He allows himself to be exposed. But, he doesn’t allow himself to be shy. He doesn’t allow himself to be ashamed.

In “An Evening I WIll Not Forget,” a song softer than most, you can feel the emotion Kennedy poured into it. His words cut through any falsehoods; they are real and powerful. By opening up himself to let the words spill out, it opens you up. You can feel his shaking words in your chest as he sings “I still love you though” and later “I wonder if I could let her down.”

I won’t lie. At times, it is hard to find the meaning of his lyrics upon first listen. They can seem chaotic and unrelated. However, I’ve loved searching for their meaning. They are interwoven with symbolic and figurative language that can be interpreted in so many ways. I think Kennedy’s goal was to take a piece of him and not only share it with his listeners but to also make the listener feel as though pieces of themselves and their individual experiences are in the song as well.

In many of his songs, Kennedy captures and reminiscences a moment. “After Rain” does that and so much more. It recounts a conversation between someone older and regretful giving advice to a young, naive boy. He is begging this young man to not make his mistake, to realize who the girl he loves is before it is too late.

This is one of the many components that make up what I would call a “classic Kennedy song.” Another important part of a “classic Kennedy song” is intricate music. The complexity of the beats, ticks, and strums offset his voice in a way that is delicious to the ear. Even though I’ve been playing this album on repeat since I came across it, I hear something new is the music every single time.

Boston” is the perfect example. It begins with guitar and as an acoustic song, and as it progresses, more beats add in while keeping the same feel. In the background, I swear I can hear typewriter keys being tapped. More prominent is this ringing that rises and falls and the abrupt silence that stretches for a few seconds before the song ends.

Silence is something Kennedy uses in many of his songs, whether it be at the end like “Boston” or in the midst of the song like “Couldn’t Tell.” After feeling so much and being so caught up in the flurry of the song, it catches you off guard and makes the song so more impactful. It’s surreal, almost as if you are in the eye of a hurricane. Those few seconds of nothingness drain your head.

Shelter,” the final track on the album and the first single Kennedy released, opens with that same empty nothingness. While I adore the beginning and the paradoxically meager and bold piano plunking, “Shelter” stand out to me for a different reason. It has the rise and fall like so many of his songs but with a twist. Right before the song explodes, it gets real quiet. For those listening exceptionally carefully or headphone users, a heartbeat sounds. Four beats, and it’s gone. Those four beats in the middle of a melancholy, desperate love song hit me harder than anything Kennedy said. I felt my heart crack just a little bit for Kennedy.

Made up of twelve songs each averaging four and a half minutes, Dermot Kennedy is like nothing I’ve ever heard. It has intense, upbeat songs and slow, acoustic songs; there is something for everyone interested in music with meaning. However, I don’t suggest you just listen to one or two of his songs.

Dermot Kennedy is a masterpiece of emotion that deserves to be listened to in full.