The Holy Roman Army
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The Holy Roman Army

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You’ve not likely forgotten the Irish acts hullabaloo in The Ticket and on Jim’s blog a few weeks back. Well just to stress what rude health Irish music is in at the moment. Here are the top 5 Irish albums I’ve heard so far this year, in no particular order.

* David Kitt - The Nightsaver (Best album yet from Kittser?)
* Super Extra Bonus Party - Night Horses (You shouldn’t be surprised. Better than the debut)
* Adrian Crowley - Season of the Sparks
* And So I Watch You From Afar -And So I Watch You From Afar
* The Holy Roman Army - How the Light Gets In

Jesus, it’s only April and we’ve got more great records than Ireland got Olympic medals last year. -

By Kate Rothwell on Thursday, 11 June 2009

A certain Eurovision entry may have made the music-loving public wary of brother and sister combinations, but Carlow duo Chris and Laura Coffey are here to break the corny stereotype with their debut LP.

Laid back opening track ‘Berlin’ sets the tone for what is to follow – should we have a summer, this is one act to lie back and unwind to. The casually disjointed sound of ‘Elegy’ is just as leisurely, as airy female vocals and quiet electronica combine for a more than listenable result.

‘He’s Not Responding’ touches on a possible Massive Attack influence, and is yet another example of clear vocal talent. Both siblings are capable vocalists, and their sharing of singing duties without a prominent front man or woman allows for interesting variety, instead of the monotony that can so often happen on a lazy electronic album.

The beeps, bleeps and relaxing repetition of ‘Caught In The Wire’ are in contrast to the haunting piano and whispered vocals found in the first minute of ‘Lastwood’, which soon builds into a more synthy number. ‘Dublin In The Daylight’ is an upbeat duet that, alongside the rather enchanting ‘Stagger Gently Home’, is probably one of the catchiest tracks on the album.

Final track ‘Neon In Our Dreams’ mirrors its short but sweet sister opening number, and with that, the debut comes to a close. Here’s hoping that The Holy Roman Army keep up their understated fight and save us all from a run-of-the-mill indie scene. - State Magazine:

When Carlow natives Chris and Laura Coffey aren't making music under their Holy Roman Army alias, they're a doctor and a psychologist respectively - fitting, considering that their music befits both the body and the mind.

The brother and sister's debut album is a concoction of sleepy compositions, beats that take in both hip-hop and trip-hop, and elegiac vocals shared equally - but don't be misguided if that description sounds a little muted. The pair may steep their sound in atmosphere, but it's coated with deft touches that illuminate the ordinary.

'How the Light Gets In' is an album that slowly ambles from your headphones, evoking imagery of a bonfire in the corner of an abandoned warehouse ('Elegy'), or a midnight stroll down a terraced street in the rain ('Dublin in the Deadlight'). Both Coffeys favour the understated, barely-there approach to singing, but their subdued technique works in their favour on the sweeping beauty of tracks like 'Caught in the Wire' and 'The Only Star'. Their understated arrangements are flooded with glitchy electronica, playful skitters and soft melodies that open up as the songs progress, but they're never overloaded with cleverness for cleverness's sake. In that respect, producer Stephen Shannon has done a fine job of fitting together the pieces of this sonic jigsaw with elegance and balance. A well-rounded and often beautiful album, tailor-made for late night aural immersion.

Review by Lauren Murphy -

Dublin-based Carlow siblings Chris and Laura Coffey have sensible day jobs -- a doctor and psychologist respectively -- but it's their musical sideline that's getting them noticed.

Although they have written songs together for more than a decade, it is only in the past 18 months or so that their ideas have gelled into textured, atmospheric electronica featuring laptops, synths and live vocals.

This debut is an intriguing snapshot of their progress to date. Stephen Shannon of Halfset provides an exemplary production on songs that touch on elements of shoegaze, indie and trip-hop.

Their professional work provides much of the dark lyrical content and one can imagine Tricky really pushing the material into exciting new places. In their sunnier moments, the Coffeys give Morcheeba a run for their money.

Burn it: Berlin

- John Meagher - Irish Independent:

By day, Carlow siblings Chris and Laura Coffey work as, respectively, a doctor and psychologist, but it is what the pair produce in their after-hours surgery that is of far more interest to the non-medical community. Their debut album twinkles with slow-burning intensity as a procession of supple, sinewy tracks trace out lines running from dub and post-rock to shoegaze (version 2.0) and trip-hop. The thrills are in the textures as the pair, with exquisite production from Halfset’s Stephen Shannon, arrange and blend their building blocks into elegant, neatly arranged tunes such as Empty Skies and Elegy.

Best of all, THRA manage to go about their business, tip-toeing from one musical nest to the next, without ever becoming in thrall or hung up on the stylistic moorings of any specific genre. The next appointment cannot come too soon.


Download tracks: Empty Skies, How The Light Gets In - Irish Times:

Sibling artistry

Sunday, June 21, 2009
By Andrew Lynch


The Holy Roman Army

Born: 1979 (Chris) and 1981 (Laura).

Background: The Holy Roman Army have been making music together for more than half their lives.

Away from the studio, they earn their living as a doctor and psychologist, respectively. As teenagers, they formed a joke band called the Favourable Winds, which was ‘‘basically just us making up nonsense lyrics on the spot and recording them with some acoustic guitar into a tape recorder at home. It was truly awful, but a lot of fun.”

According to Chris, The Holy Roman Army’s name ‘‘comes from an in-joke that developed over several drunken days in Prague – somehow the name stuck and then came to suit the music’’.

Their most high-profile gig so far was a support slot with Low as part of the Future Days festival last June. Their debut album, How the Light Gets In, is dedicated to their mother, who died when they were children.

Album: How the Light Gets In (2009.

On their remarkably accomplished debut album, How the Light Gets In, The Holy Roman Army take no prisoners.

There are casualties all over the place as people collapse from heart failure, succumb to sudden adult death syndrome and get struck by lightning while holding surfboards on Australian beaches.

They become paranoid about CCTV cameras, the soullessness of Celtic tiger consumerism and an impending sense that the apocalypse is just around the corner.

Since nothing seems to make the pain any more bearable, they sit around wondering when exactly the carefree days of childhood gave way to all this pointless suffering.

Not surprisingly, then, the dual commanders of this military outfit turn out to be a cheerful, apparently well adjusted brother and sister from Co Carlow.

‘‘I can understand why some people might listen to our music and assume that we’re these really gloomy characters,” laughs Chris Coffey, who’s 29,married and works as a GP in Arklow.

‘‘But we’re not really,” adds Laura, a couple of years younger, a little bit quieter and studying for a PhD in psychology. ‘‘It’s just more interesting to write about the darker side of life. And usually after you’ve done it, you find that all those negative emotions have been turned into something positive.”

As technology continues to transform the music industry beyond all recognition, The Holy Roman Army are exactly the kind of band that’s destined to thrive in this brave new world of iTunes and MySpace.

They have respectable day jobs, record their songs without any outside interference, and release them whenever they want. They freely accept that, in a pre-internet age, their music would probably have never seen the light of day.

While they don’t completely dismiss the idea of signing to a major label if the right deal came along, right now they’re more than happy with the freedom that goes with being their own bosses.

‘‘Music is our passion, but we feel like fans as much as professional musicians,” says Chris. ‘‘Doing it this way, we can work at our own pace - and any money we spend is ours to lose. Having to store several crates of CD s in my apartment is a small price to pay for having total creative freedom.”

Even so, there are lots of people in Ireland making music on laptops with no real prospects of entertaining anyone other than themselves. HRA, as they must learn to be called, are different.

Produced by Stephen Shannon from Halfset and containing elements of electronic, hip-hop and indie rock, How the Light Gets In may not be an overtly commercial album - but the intense interest it has garnered from several radio stations long before its release suggests that the Coffeys’ profile will not remain low for much longer.

Despite their impeccably modern working methods, they admit to having a childhood ambition that now seems so old-fashioned, it’s almost quaint. ‘‘Ever since we were kids, we’ve dreamed of going into a music shop and seeing an album made by us on the CD racks,” says Chris. ‘‘The day we can do that is definitely going to be pretty special.”

Growing up in the Carlow town of Bagenalstown, where their father was the local GP, such dreams must have seemed a long way away. Closer in age than their two older brothers, they devoured music magazines such as the now defunct Select, and listened avidly to their favourite DJs, Dave Fanning and Donal Dineen.

Although they were sent to piano lessons and taped some early songs on a cassette recorder, however, the notion of actually pursuing music as a career was too self-indulgent to contemplate.

‘‘It was a good place to grow up, because you got to know people from all different walks of life,” says Laura.

‘‘I find that people from big cities often have a much narrower social perspective.

But, at the same time, you always knew that it was a place you’d eventually leave.”

‘‘That’s it,” says Chris. ‘‘I remember once mildly complaining about it to a friend of mine from a similar town and he replied, ‘Yeah, but at least you fuckers had a train’.”

After school, they duly spread their wings, living in places as far apart as Galway, Prague and Australia.

Although they kept in close contact, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that the siblings found themselves based in Dublin and ready to collaborate on music again.

Chris already had a back catalogue of instrumentals that he’d only been brave enough to play to his friends, but as soon as Laura added her whispery vocals, he realised that they had something potentially very special on their hands.

‘‘The great thing about the internet is the encouragement you get from complete strangers, which is important for your self-confidence when you’re starting out,” says Chris. ‘‘We started putting some tracks up on MySpace, and got some e-mails back suggesting that people were getting into it. Then I went into Road Records on Fade Street, where the owner told me he’d been playing our songs and customers had been asking who we were.

After that, it was a logical next step to think about making an album.”

Although he’s wary of drawing glib messages from his generally oblique lyrics, Chris agrees that his medical background has significantly influenced him as a songwriter.

‘‘You get to see all sorts of things,” he says. ‘‘Usually, you have to remain emotionally detached if you’re to do your job properly, but there are times when it’s impossible to see suffering and not let it get to you.

‘‘One occasion that sticks in my mind is when I was driving home along Merrion Square, and came across a man in his 70s who’d fallen off his bicycle. I used my mobile phone to shine a light in his eyes and immediately realised that he wasn’t going to make it. He was all dressed up to go out and his Sunday newspaper was blowing about in the wind. Those banal details made me really upset for ages afterwards.”

The band’s talent for evoking panicky claustrophobia is perfectly captured on the album’s standout track, Dublin in the Deadlight, which is built around the eerie scenario of someone having a seizure in the Dundrum Town Centre.

‘‘We both hate that place with a passion,” says Laura. ‘‘I always feel like I’m suffocating in there, even though it’s so big. It represents everything that was wrong with the Celtic tiger.”

‘‘It’s a shame that not many Dublin bands write specifically about the city,” says Chris, ‘‘but I think that not being from here actually gives us a different perspective on the urban living experience. I really like music that has a sense of place - and that’s something we definitely aspire to.”

While they’re most at home in the studio, the impending release of their album has prompted them to put a live band together as well. ‘‘We haven’t played many gigs, but we’re determined to do something that isn’t just a guy fiddling with his laptop and a girl singing over it,” says Chris.

‘‘A certain amount of the music needs to be played directly from the computer, but we’ve also got a bassist, trumpet player and drummer now, so that it feels more like a fully-fledged band.

We’ve also put together some visuals that enhance the performance, but also keep our home-made ethos intact.

We’re incorporating our own photos and videos with Super 8 video footage that our dad shot when he lived in Canada in the early 1970s.

My wife is a stem cell biologist, so we’ve also got some very cool footage of little, tiny beating cells she actually created herself, pulsing away in one of the films.”

For now, the Coffeys are looking forward to hearing people’s reaction to the album with a mixture of nerves and excitement. While brotherand-sister duos may not exactly have an illustrious track record in musical history (obviously the White Stripes don’t count, and let’s not even mention Donna and Joe), they insist that sibling rivalry has never reared its ugly head.

They won’t be giving up the day jobs just yet - but as far as their real passion is concerned, this album is just the beginning.

‘‘I’ve probably been the dominant partner up to now, because I wrote most of the songs before we started working together again,” says Chris. ‘‘But Laura’s getting more confident all the time and, while I lose perspective, she’s brilliant at knowing what’s good and what isn’t. I think it’ll be much more of a 50-50 breakdown in future - and that should make things really interesting.”

‘‘We have disagreements all the time,” says Laura. ‘‘But that’s okay, because we know each other so well that we’re sure to work things out sooner or later.”

‘‘The best thing,” says Chris, ‘‘about a brother-sister band is that it makes it almost impossible to split up.”

How the Light Gets In is released on Collapsed Adult Records on June 26. The Holy Roman Army will perform upstairs in Whelan’s in Dublin on the same night -

As we reach the halfway mark in what has already been a champion year for new music, I’m reminded of a fine piece a few weeks ago in the Guardian. Johnny Dee had a look back at 1989 and noted what a momentous year it was for music. You had fantastic releases or breakthroughs from the Stone Roses (I can still remember the first time I heard that album), De La Soul (I bought that on vinyl in Belfast and nearly wore the grooves out the following week), Pixes (”Dolittle”), Beastie Boys (”Paul’s Boutique”), Soul II Soul (”Club Classics, Vol 1?), Happy Mondays (myself and two others put them on in McGonagles in Dublin with The Shamen on St Patrick’s Day - the heavy metal disco afterwards drew a bigger crowd) and plenty of others. Yet, as Dee notes, for all that great music in the ether, the public went out and bought Jive Bunny records as if their lives depended on it.

Much has changed in the 20 years since. The labels are no longer the powerhouses they once were and you can be sure a Jive Bunny 2009 would not be selling records in the same quantities as before. There’s still a disconnect between the mainstream and the underground, but it’s no longer the massive leap it once was as several bands have found out in recent times. Moreover, as several of this year’s success stories know only too well, you don’t need to go the whole hog to make a living from your music. You can do things on your own terms.

Yet the fact remains that, leaving aside the overall slippage in sales, much of this year’s big sellers will still come from the same quarters as always. Major label-guided TV pop continues to show up the truism of the if-you-throw-enough-at-the-wall-something-will-stick approach. A couple of big acts will clock up the digits. That slew of electropop lasses everyone was tipping at the dawn of the day will produce one winner (Lady Gaga) and one surprise contender (La Roux) with a host of also-rans (Little Boots’s album certainly does not do her any favours). It’s like 1989 – and 1999 – all over again.

But in terms of volume, everything has changed. There has never been so much music, so many new releases, so many new bands to check out. You could spend your entire time just listening to freshly hatched music without having a minute to go back to the vintage stuff. Some view this as a problem (in fact, many do and see churning as a reason why so many new bands burn out so fast), yet it’s a problem which has a very simple solution: just make better music.

And yes, like every year of late, it has been a good year so far for new releases. Here are 25 albums in no order whatsoever which are rocking my world as we head into the second half of 2009. There are probably some more and there are certainly some smashing albums to come in July and August from The XX, La Roux and Florence & The Machine but we’ll stick with these for now.

Animal Collective “Merriweather Post Pavilion” (Domino)
The Juan Maclean “The Future Will Come” (DFA)
Grizzly Bear “Veckatimest” (Warp)
DM Stith “Heavy Ghost” (Asthmatic Kitty)
Hudson Mohawke “Polyfolk Dance” (Warp)
Micachu & The Shapes “Jewellery” (Rough Trade)
Fever Ray “Fever Ray” (Rabid)
Adrian Crowley “Season of the Sparks” (Tin Angel)
Here We Go Magic “Here We Go Magic” (Western Vinyl)
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart “The Pains of Being Pure At Heart” (Fortuna Pop)
White Denim “Fits” (Full Time Hobby)
Toddla T “Skanky Skanky” (1965)
Dirty Projectors “Bitte Orca” (Domino)
Dorian Concept “When Planets Collide” (Kindred Spirits)
Bibio “Ambivalence Avenue” (Warp)
Sa-Ra Creative Partners “Nuclear Evolution: The Age Of Love” (Ubiquity)
Raphael Saadiq “The Way I See It” (Columbia)
Cymbals Eat Guitars “Why There Are Mountains” (CEG)
Yonlu “A Society In Which No Tear Is Shed Is Inconceivably Mediocre” (Luaka Bop)
Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics “Inspiration Information” (Strut)
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble “Hypnotic Brass Ensemble” (Honest Jons)
Holy Roman Army “How The Light Gets In” (Collapsed Adult)
Speech Debelle “Speech Therapy” (Big Dada)
The Horrors “Primary Colours’ (XL)
Antony & The Johnsons “The Crying Light” (Rough Trade) - Jim Carroll (Irish Times music editor:

Most of the songs on this album seem imbued with city nightlife. Not the drunken pub-crawling, but the lonely wandering after the last club has shut its doors, looking up at dawn stretching the night out of the sky, and streetlights still lit, keeping watch and taking care. Not drunk enough to be senseless, but enough to feel the outer world creeping in.
These songs fit together in an interesting way, like hazy memories of different drunken rambles, all recalled at once. The album is gorgeous, but full of contradictions, one minute comfortable as in the song above, elsewhere cold and distant. The vocals aren't passionate but remain oddly warm, as much an instrument as the synths, samples and bump-click beats. It's a beautiful collection of sounds, and is undoubtedly one of the finest Irish releases of the year. -


Tracks streaming on and


"How The Light Gets In" (Collapsed Adult Records)
Release date: June 26th 2009

(free Bandcamp download)
Release date: March 2010

Release date: December 2009



The Holy Roman Army are Chris and Laura Coffey, a brother and sister from Co. Carlow, Ireland. Having spent their teenage years messing around at home with Casio keyboards and tape recorders, they started writing music together again in late 2007 when Chris found himself with a load of self-produced, half-finished beats and soundscapes, and sorely in need of inspiration. The introduction of Laura's ethereal vocals and guitar provided a more melodic influence and offered an intriguing counterpoint to Chris' dense synth-and-sample-heavy tracks.

Released on their own Collapsed Adult label, debut album 'How The Light Gets In' is a distillation of their varied musical tastes, fusing glitchy laptop beats with melodic sensibilities, garnering comparisons with acts such as DJ Shadow, The Notwist, Portishead and Mum. From the hushed ambience of opening track 'Berlin' to the dubby 'Lastwood' and electronic pop of 'Neon In Our Dreams', the album covers a broad terrain of musical influences over its eleven tracks.

The dark lyrical themes on the album are informed at times by Chris and Laura's day jobs, working as a doctor and psychologist respectively. Expressions of loss, alienation and escape echo through the album, complementing the music at times, as with the haunting 'Elegy' and 'Empty Skies', yet jarring compellingly with the brighter sounds of 'Stagger Gently Home' and 'Neon In Our Dreams'.

'How The Light Gets In' was recorded by Stephen Shannon in his Dublin studio. Stephen's ability to meld the experimental with pop sensibilities in Halfset made him the ideal producer for the album. His knack for extracting hooks from the unlikeliest of places, combined with his and Chris' shared fondness for old-school drum machines and booming bass, has come to characterise much of the album.

REVIEWS for 'How The Light Gets In'

5 stars: Totally Dublin Magazine
4 stars (Album Of The Week): Metro
4 stars: News Of The World
4 stars: RTE Guide
Album Of The Month: Icon, Phantom 105.2FM
One of the Top 5 Irish Albums Of The Year So Far:
'[a] remarkably accomplished debut' Sunday Business Post
'an intriguing snapshot of their progress to date' Irish Independent
'the thrills are in the textures...elegant, neatly arranged tunes...the next appointment cannot come soon enough' The Ticket, Irish Times