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In spring of 2020, Aoife Nessa Frances moved out of the city for the first time in her life. After packing up her things in Dublin, she moved to rural County Clare on the west coast of Ireland, and there, amidst the stillness, she worked on the songs that would become her second album, Protector. The resulting body of work deftly juxtaposes golden hours and arguments, affection and alienation, and above all marks a crucial period of her life that was transformative and left her wiser.
"I might have been running away from my problems," she admits. "I was disconnected from myself and from nature, but I found peace far away from the city, where there were no distractions. I isolated myself with nothing to do but make music.” Writing Protector provided Frances an essential sounding board for this journey. "I felt a growing inner strength that guided me through the making of this album. It was like sculpting with my eyes closed, this intense sense of self-preservation leading me and growing with each song I wrote. When I started, I didn't recognise myself. With each song, I became more human.”
Aoife spent that summer with her dad and two sisters. “It was a very special time for my family as we had never been that tight knit before,” she says, “and we all became very close…driving the country roads and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and lakes of Clare. I had one CD in my car: Jim Sullivan’s UFO and we listened to it over and over again.” Like many people in their late twenties shaking off youthful rebelliousness, Frances experienced a solidification of familial ties like never before, and felt the formation of a protective, impenetrable shell. “For me, Protector acknowledges the part of myself that steers me towards a brighter path. The almost psychotropic power of nature gave me a connection I never felt before. As the countryside seeped into me and lines of communication opened up with my family, I developed an ability to perceive myself and my choices within an expanded world.”
Protector builds pastoral landscapes through light flourishes and open spaces. Songs float along effortlessly, remaining anchored by Frances’ deep voice. Contemplative tempos tug along atmospheric synths, minimal bass, and shimmering guitar notes, conveying a serenity like early morning. Frances found that the noiselessness allowed her, at long last, to listen to herself. “I got up every day before sunrise and took my guitar to a place where nobody could hear me,” she discloses. “These songs were written in the magic hour before the world wakes up.”
Recording took place in a small house in County Kerry, at the foothills of the Annascaul, along with Brendan Jenkinson (producer, keys, bass, synth, clarinet) and Brendan Doherty (drums). “We’d wake up early every day and swim at Inch Beach before making music,” Frances describes. “This ritual was crucial for our process. There was an unexplainable joy happening between the three of us.” The arrangements grew with later contributions from Ailbhe Nic Oiroictaigh (strings), Meabh McKenna (harp), and Conor O’Brien (horns). No matter how it expanded in scope and involvement, Frances never let it stray from a central focus on deep truths. “I wanted my voice to be as up front and dry as possible, to create a sense of raw and powerful vulnerability, like Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Histoire de Melody Nelson’ where the voice feels right in front of you.”
Across eight songs, Frances found innovative ways to project her intentions. “Emptiness Follows” carries a striking sense of grace, the playfulness of the track’s instrumentation contrast lyrics about friends drifting apart (“the weight of the water, it holds you and tortures time away from you”). “Soft Lines,” spans weightless and brooding, the shimmer of the musical backdrop like a low-settled fog obscuring one’s way, as Frances sings of the illusion of idealized love (“All that I’d give for a life by your side”). “Chariot” is at the core of the record, a powerful testament to the strength and bonds of family and friendships.
With Protector, Frances has delivered a glowing act of restoration, informed by the power of connection. The songs find the resonance in the hum of life, trapping glimpses of light and crystalizing them into new modes of being. Each track is a nuanced take on a different subject. “Writing and recording this album was a spiritual experience. I experienced love for my family on a level I didn’t know existed, while slowly putting myself back together and watching the ‘protector’ in me grow much bigger.”