Scientific Laboratories – 2001 – 45 minutes

The independent scene in Dublin is alive, well and recording with Steve Albini, judging by three of this year's crop of Irish albums. Steve Fanagan and The Frames made it to Chicago and back to present us with their offerings; now it's the turn of enigmatic scene stalwarts Joan of Arse with their second long player, 'Distant Hearts, A Little Closer'.

JOA grab your heart from the outset with the ludicrously monikered but sublimely talented Bearded Lady (vocals/guitar) and Chocolate (drums) trading vocals on 'The Slaves are in the Galley...' before a melancholy harmonica introduces you to 'Things Asleep in the Sun'. This song is taken to another, altogether sublime, level with the entrance of the bizarrely named, but glorious sounding, Pink Pirate Choral Group, containing members of cult American band Songs: Ohia as well as The 'Arse and Steve Fanagan.

The yearning of 'Was Christ Among Us...' is initially offset with a simple and beautiful piano accompaniment but the song builds up to a raging storm in the studio, complete with screams, before fading out on the eerie sigh of a musical saw. Albini's clean, 'as live' method of recording suits JOA whose last album gave little hint of their frequently incendiary live performances.

An air of sadness infuses these "songs of love and trust". The Bearded Lady sings of revolution, death, and love in all its ugliness and pain but he still manages to grab hope from the amps of despair. Joan of Arse are a band to be treasured; 'Distant Hearts, A Little Closer' an album to be loved. Pats on the bum all round.

Caroline Hennessy

Tracklisting: The Slaves are in the Galley, Sharpening their Oars - Things Asleep in the Sun - A Spell Cast With Fingers - Was Christ Among Us That Night - The Bellringer's Warning & Other Stories - At the Feet of St. Peter - Watching Films with the Sound Down