In recent years – and particularly in the last, thanks to Bandcamp – we’ve seen the rise of a wide net of self-produced superlative electronic artists. In the Northern Irish cul de sac, you have the increasingly world-beating Arvo Party, synthwave retromancer Alpha Chrome Yayo, and more recently, Aileen McKenna, AKA This Ship Argo has been cropping up on the radar with her singular brand of experimental electronic pop.
At turns earworming, introspective and profoundly moving, TSA strikes a rare midpoint between densely-layered chamber pop, and ruminative minimalism. – The Thin Air
Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from This Ship Argo, aka Aileena McKenna, Belfast-based musician whose debut we were very much looking forward to after being highly impressed by a slew of singles she put out.
More TBTs in our archives.
I wrote a track, I jokingly named it “Why Are You Like This?”, probably after saying something stupid to someone then overthinking it. They told me it was a good name and then it stuck.
This was the first Argo track primarily written on the Odyssey, which is why it is so prominent on there. The sound really suited all the layers, and it then became the soundtrack to overthinking and the storms that sometimes surround us when we’re in the midst of something. It’s a song to berate myself with essentially, and strongly!
This song also has a variety of prior names before I settle on Isomer, mainly due to the fact there are a few tracks within it that are essentially the same but whose shape has been altered with varying. This song feels like the story of something in and of itself. To me, it is about one thing in particular, but I love knowing what other people’s interpretations are so I’ll leave it at that.
The title for this was taken from a line in Twin Peaks and was named long after it was finished because it just seemed to fit. There are around 60 vocal tracks in here, formed intro instrumentation to be played with rather than vocals in their own right. They form a sort of dense but not physical wall around the instruments, whether it be protective or obstructive (or both).
The tune also sits primarily in the bass register which is, oddly, directly influenced by Górecki’s Symphony no 3 and some lessons I learned about not trying to shoehorn something in for the sake of it!
This song is named after a line in a Seamus Heaney poem (The Blackbird of Glanmore). It is a reference to my dad, really, who would work away outside and had managed to partially tame two wild blackbirds (male and female) who would come in to the garage and sit with him whilst he worked. He was even able to call them down to feed them.
I loved going up to their house and seeing the little blackbirds at the door, but they sort of fell away when he
wasn’t around as much. This is my ode to my dad and to them, and to the birds in my garden who donate their voices to me on a daily basis.
This track was honestly the one that took the longest to find traction but also one that I finished remarkably quickly once I got going. I thought the synth at the start sounded like a ghostly conversation, so it then became the description of a Victorian séance in my head (it definitely started off was something else!).
I can see the whole thing as it goes through: people arriving, sitting down, calling up the spirits and then getting excited (and also sad) at the end. It is in roughly the same structure as an overture – which I noticed whilst I was mixing – so just embraced it in the title. I don’t believe in ghosts at all, but I love the idea of putting the things that haunt me to rest, so this does that in a way.
This was one of the first tracks I wrote for this album, and it pretty much started off (after the initial synth line) with the backing vocals, which is why it’s called Hum, if I’m being honest. The lyrics sort of appeared from there. I love harmonies and backing vocals and so I just kept going when I started and ended up with 22 vocal tracks. As is my way…
This song is really about hearing someone’s voice for the first time in ages, and it not being a pleasant
experience. Most people associate humming with nice things, but quite a lot of the time hums are actually really intrusive and annoying. I was sort of hoping to reflect that in the song so I hope it comes through!
Another one influenced by my dad. This one is a sort of companion song to blackbird.
Someone told me once they liked the fire crackling sounds in this, but it’s actually rain dripping off my roof onto some paint cans that were standing below and is the end of the rain from that same recording. Neither song translated well when I tried to move them to synth, so they stayed as piano and I think they’re all the better for it.
Initially, this was the end of the album. To me, it’s less soothing than people have said they find it. It’s deliberately kind of fuzzy and the triple-tracked vocals are panned to make it feel like you’re lying underwater, looking up at the sky.
This song was a post-distribution addition that honestly just fell out of my brain one night when I just needed to play some music to feel better. It’s completely improvised and the first and only take and it really helped.
To me, at the time, it felt like this song was shouldering some of the stuff in my head, which is where the title comes from but is also a hope that it will do that for someone else too. Unusually for me this is just one synth track
(using the Buchla music easel) and a bit of reverb. From sitting down to turn on the computer to uploading it to Bandcamp I spent less than 45 minutes on it. Sometimes it’s nice to just trust yourself.