Once a solo affair, this ever-evolving musical project now resembles a collaborative community with frontman Marty Ryan as the band’s lynchpin.
The Merries documents some of Ryan’s happiest memories, but his desire to record them came from a fever dream of pain and uncertainty.
Ryan suffered a frightening head injury in 2021 shortly after moving to the US to pursue a PhD in music education.
While he’s healthy now, memory loss and long term issues were an initial concern. Ryan wrote a list of important memories after the accident happened as a way to ensure he remembered those experiences that were precious to him.
Strangely enough, none of these events had ever featured in an Anna’s Anchor song before, despite the band being three albums and a slew of EPs deep.
Musically, The Merries is the most expansive offering from Anna’s Anchor to date. Guitars, bass, drums, and brash vocals are there—as expected from the band—but The Merries includes more stripped back songs, synthesizers, found sound, and spoken word, too.
This album also features more individuals on it than previous releases, with Brian Scally on drums, Clare O’Brien on backing vocals (as well as lead vocals for the album’s closing song), and even a guest appearance from Hermitage Green’s Dermot Sheedy on Bodhrán.
‘Opening Credits’ is fittingly cinematic, pulling us into Ryan’s memories with hypnotic piano and a post-night out recording of him and some of his closest school friends when they were 18. Following that is ‘Nothing Happened Today’, which “harks back to times when you could waste an entire day just hanging around with nothing to do and it would somehow feel like the best day ever,” as Ryan puts it.
The groove behind the drums and acoustic guitar is inspired by Alex G, with Ryan’s earnest vocals drawing everything together.
On focus track ‘Listowel’, Ryan recalls what it was like to go with his first band to visit the punk scene in Listowel and Tralee, which had been cultivated by the group Blank.
He was only 15 at the time, and the experience impressed on him that music is as much about connection with other people as it is about grand artistic ideas. “It was one of my first experiences of complete freedom,” he shares, and that reckless feeling is reflected in the acoustic guitar that kicks off the song and grows ever more fervent and summery.
‘Function Room Floor’, the first single off the album, looks back on teenage social awkwardness with a sweeping sound inspired by The National, Alex G, and Tycho.
The insistent chord progressions play on a feeling of youthful yearning.
Powerful percussion drives the song forward especially on the outroand shows off the talents of drummer Brian Scally (Ganglions).
“It’s a simple song about being a nervous young person at any kind of social event in Ireland, be it a teenage disco or local GAA club function, where I’d be found with my back glued to the wall afraid to speak to anyone but imagining all sort of narratives in my own head about everyone else’s lives and using that as a vicarious means of escape from my own life at the time,” Ryan says of ‘Function Room Floor’.
Ryan’s love of Limerick is “more a part of my personality than anything else,” and living in the States he often finds himself missing “walking down Catherine Street just to bump into someone I know, going to Rift for coffee and sitting outside in the fresh air, skateboarding at the train station where you meet some of the sketchiest characters you’ll ever encounter in your life”—the list goes on.
He was surprised, then, to hear a different Limerick band in London in the ‘90s speaking poorly about his home in a documentary (“It’s just a shithole, like”), and decided to use the recording as part of the interlude from Side A to Side B. Their deep, distorted voices over silvery pangs of synth make Ryan’s feelings clear: ‘I Never Felt That Way’.
Driven by ambient dreamy synth sounds, the rose-tinted ‘Hotel Dom Pancho’ looks back at one of the “last truly carefree” moments in frontman Marty Ryan’s life. After all, as he sings ruefully, “You can’t always live in sunshine.”
“Hotel Dom Pancho was a filthy dilapidated hotel off the strip in a typical Iberian package holiday town. My closest friends and I went there after a year of saving up once we had finished school. A week of nonsense and debauchery, but in hindsight, the last truly carefree experience of my life,” Ryan explains.
“For that week, there were no worries, no bigger picture, just a group of friends being 100% in the moment. That was the last time I experienced that and life changed significantly after that.
I’ll always remember the week at Hotel Dom Pancho as pure freedom and that’s what I tried to get across in the song.”
Ryan and his acoustic guitar can take centre stage on ‘Badges for Burglars’, with synth in the background creating a queasy, surreal soundscape.
There’s a ragged edge to Ryan’s voice here as he recounts the transition in life from not caring about anyone or anything, to being more cognizant of your actions and how they impact those around you.
Like many in Ireland, Ryan was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school, a history he explores on ‘Knock’. It’s one of the most melancholic songs on the album, as it confronts the harm perpetrated by the Church and its waning power.
The track was inspired by a visit to the titular pilgrimage site, which Ryan describes as “one of, if not the most bizarre experiences of my life. It was like when the circus had left town or what happens in the Rust Belt of America when the industry dries up.” The outro is a sonic collapse; with Dermot Sheedy of Hermitage Green on Bodhrán and a combination of furious guitar, distortion, and found sound, the end of ‘Knock’ is an aural exorcism.
‘Closing Credits’ features lead vocals and lyrics by Clare O’Brien, who’s also sung harmony and played keyboard in the live band.
Ryan had always intended for ‘Closing Credits’ to finish off the album, but found himself at a dead end when trying to write it. “Clare one day said she had some melody ideas for me and I quickly realised that this was her song to write. I think the ability to let someone else take the reins like Clare did on this song is such an amazing thing and really makes me feel so positive for the future of the band,” he explains. O’Brien’s sweet voice leading the forceful drums and uplifting guitar lends the song a fresh, exciting momentum.
Since the project’s inception in 2014, Anna’s Anchor has amassed a loyal audience from playing over 350 shows all around the world in a DIY fashion. 2021’s A Glorious Ruction showed the creative potential of the band with a concept album about the River Shannon that led the group to critical acclaim in Ireland in the U.K.
In revisiting his past, Ryan and his collaborators discovered a new artistic freedom with Anna’s Anchor, culminating in The Merries.