"Songwriting keeps me sane," so declared Jape, aka Richie Egan, in a recent interview with The Irish Times. "What gets me through the night, so to speak, is songwriting."
Like any set of actions or regular imposed religious event, Egan's ritual has become the pouring out of his head and heart through synth effects, guitars, weird, humorous lyrics and electronic beats. On this, his third album as Jape, he's got better at it. Much better.
While 2003's 'Cosmosphere' bore hints of an emerging talent, 2004's patchy 'The Monkeys in the Zoo Have More Fun Than Me' at least cemented the fact that Egan was capable of twisting his gift for melody around interesting dabs of guitar and electronica, often to spectacular effect. Opener 'Floating' stood a mile apart from anything else he'd previously done and pointed to a future great album in the offering.
In the intervening four years since, Egan has enjoyed mixed fortunes. 'Floating' was memorably covered by Jack White's Raconteurs outfit, bringing Egan to the attention of record labels and media in the UK. After a mini-bidding war and with 'Ritual' near completion, Egan elected to sign with V2 in early 2007. Not long after, however, the label went bust and Egan's songs currently reside with an independent label, Co-Op.
The intervening years have seen his songwriting improve two-fold; while he's also brought more focussed structure to his experimentation. Breaking it down, 'Ritual' is at its heart a pop record - and in the most brilliant sense of the genre; Egan tripping through the various emotions which have pushed each song out, with bags of melody and increased BPM. Throughout he takes us up and down like a great DJ might, though crucially the 'down' tracks are amongst the best on 'Ritual'.
Proceedings get underway at a measured pace with 'Christopher and Anthony', before Egan really shows off his new confidence and skill with his electronic toys on the sharp, dance-floor stomper 'I Was a Man' - 'Ritual's indie-hit in waiting. LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy will be green with envy.
'Graveyard' and 'Replays' fizz as the feast of danceable pop continues to flow, before Egan displays a different shade to his songwriting. A natural storyteller, the stripped back acoustic 'Phil Lynott' is an undoubted highlight, mixing humour and seriousness through raw, emotional thoughts as Egan reflects: "One day I will be a dead man who plays the bass from Crumlin/Like Phil Lynott."
The simple 'At the Heart of All of This Strangeness' is arguably the album's finest moment with Egan's vocal at its emotive best as he plucks a gorgeous melody from an acoustic guitar, while pausing for added affect at pivotal moments in the song. It's a genuinely great melancholic song of loss and feeling lost.
The beats come crashing back with added attitude on the electro strut of 'Strike Me Down', before the journey comes to dream-like conclusion with the spacey 'Nothing Lasts Forever', a song about death and religious ritual, which brings the album full-circle.
Throughout there is little room for boredom on 'Ritual', Egan ensuring the listener rarely stays on one course, instead drifting down electronic side streets at varied pace. There's not a bad song here and 'Ritual' should see off all other competition to be named the Irish album of 2008. Where Egan takes Jape from here will only be interesting.