Dermot Kennedy’s new album Without Fear was worth the wait

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Dermot Kennedy’s new album Without Fear was worth the wait

Did you know some people voluntarily stay up until midnight on a school night waiting for their favorite artist to drop a new album?

It’s me. I’m “some people.”

And I was crying approximately three minutes and forty seconds after midnight, merely one song into Dermot Kennedy’s album Without Fear that was released last Friday. 

Something about that song—“Dancing Under Red Skies,” the tenth track—broke me down. It felt like Kennedy took an ice pick to my chest with his voice thick with passion, thick with numb desperation, thick with a thousand emotions. At the same time, treasured memories drifted out and collected midair like gloomy clouds on a dreary autumn day. 

It’s unbelievable that Kennedy wrote this gorgeous piece at the age of seventeen. But, it makes sense he would’ve had an aptitude for music from a young age given the way he surrenders himself to his lyrics and emotions. Moreover, this isn’t the only piece Kennedy has been sitting on a while; two of the songs on the thirteen track album are revamped and refurbished version of previous songs. 

One of which is “An Evening I Will Not Forget,” a song that I have set on repeat more times than I’d care to admit. I was expecting his pleasantly throaty to fade in gently with some soothing piano as usual. Instead when he began to sing, he was only accompanied by the ghost of the piano. 

As the song grew, more beats and intricacies added in creating a swelling and dramatic exposition. You can even hear the clicking of a combination lock which, to me, is an allusion to unlocking the metaphorical gate and letting someone in—one of the many messages that could be pulled from his enigmatic lyrics. 

The other song is “All My Friends.” Like in the original, “All My Friends” features a lovely rolling piano line; but this time, it adds in a drumbeat that mimics the piano. Because of this, the quiet and gentle parts are much more impactful. Kennedy’s sandpaper voice cuts you apart as he sings about moving on, about saying goodbye to his friends, encapsulating that beautiful nostalgic feel. 

Along with these two renditions, Kennedy re-released two songs from his last album. While I adore the way he added a new twist to the aforementioned songs, I definitely would not have been content with any changes to “Moments Passed” and “Power Over Me.” 

“Moments Passed” is particularly special to me; it was the song that led me to Kennedy, the song that started my infatuation with artists who sing about real things. His anguish and pain shook me awake and yanked me from my music-lull. For my own sentimentality, I’m relieved “Moments Passed” was left untouched.  

However, I’m glad “Power Over Me” remained unvarnished by extra flourishes and tweaks simply because it’s unnecessary. His gravelly hum and rough belts create an almost ominous intensity that can overwhelm you. You can feel his fervor thrumming in time with your pulse— it’s quite empowering. 

“Empowering” isn’t a word I would typically use to describe Kennedy’s music, but then again neither is “pop music,” and I’ve done that. In Without Fear, Kennedy has been playing with his music genres as well as the overall atmosphere and message of his music. 

For example, the twelfth song “Redemption” enters with triumphantly buzzing trumpets and a more playful and hopeful mood. I would even go as far as to say this song is almost happy and uplifting. Despite being a pop song with some folksy undertones, it is his authentic voice and casual background exclamations that make the song seem real and unedited in a way only Kennedy can accomplish.

But, “What Have I Done” stray towards the opposite romantic ballad side of the spectrum. It begins minor and downcast, but it soon takes on an intoxicating lovestruck tone; it feels like that delicious “good morning” stretch or like letting out a breath you didn’t know you were holding.

“Lost” takes on this same quality but uses it in a completely different way. Rather than allowing your emotions to gently flow out, “Lost” lets a tidal wave out. His candid lyrics sound like poetry when he sings them. I think the most underrated line from all of Kennedy’s music comes from this song.

“What if the love you deserve is the love you never find? I’ve learned in love and death we don’t decide.”

I know they don’t seem like much simply thrown a page. 

“Lost”—along with “Outnumbered”—is the perfect mix of how Kennedy’s message is delivered. At times, it is direct like how Kennedy tells the story in the “The Corner”;  but, it can also be flowery and metaphorical like in the melodic and captivating song “Outgrown,” one of my favorites on the album. 

“Rome” stands out to me because it is the epitome of everything that makes Kennedy so singularly spectacular: the confidence he has in his vulnerability. Yes, it is catchy and has a lovely contrast between the harsh and tender aspects of Kennedy’s voice, but these aspects pale in comparison.

“Without Fear,” the final song on the album, takes it a step further. If I had to choose one song to classify as a “classic Kennedy song,” this would be it. Kennedy tells a story throughout the five-minute song and even has his typical musical break. His grating voice runs and trembles in his exquisite and unique way.

As the song fades to ten seconds of silence, his golden emotion envelopes you. All you can do is simply sit in awe and let every word, every rasp, every emotion of Kennedy’s slide from your skin. It is overwhelming and delicate, loud and secluded. 

That feeling kind of applies to his whole album—I can’t get enough of it.

Mom and Dad, please buy me concert tickets.

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