Participant is the songwriting pseudonym of Dublin based musician and producer, Stephen Tiernan. Participant first appeared into the world with 2014’s debut EP, Bit Slow, catching the ears of many with both his delicate way with a melody and direct to the point lyricism. After teasing his new music, in the shape of singles Coast and Medicine, this week will see Participant return with a brand new EP, Modern Retelling, which, ahead of its release, we’re streaming here today.
Across its four tracks, Modern Retelling looks to push Stephen’s songwriting in a variety of new directions, marrying his traditional acoustic folk roots, with ambient textures and orchestral flourishes, courtesy of some stunning string arrangements.
The album’s opening track, A Year Of Things I Didn’t Say, might also be its most exciting. Lyrically, it’s an exploration of our failures to find the right words until it’s too late, Stephen looking back on a missed opportunity to spit out his words, “I just need to trust you sooner, I still think I owe you some answers”. If lyrically impressive, it’s musically that it really seems like a huge jump forward; the track begins life with a Villagers’ like guitar-line and a pulsing heart-beat of a drum beat, before lush strings enter, gentle at first, then gradually swelling as Stephen repeats the track’s title, bringing the song to a thrilling close that Sufjan Stevens would be proud of.
Elsewhere, Death of a Loved One strips things back at first, before exploding to an almost wall-of-sound like closing. Previous single Coast is re-recorded into a gentle ballad, laced with anxiety and self-doubt; “I can’t help this feeling I get, I’m not supposed to be here at all”, before closing on a moment of hope, “crash-land love right into me, my hearts in my throat”.
The EP closes on the gentle atmospheres of Medicine, perhaps the perfect amalgamation of the Participant sound. Stephen’s clipped enunciated vocals, accompanied by a propulsive guitar line, subtle flourishes of strings and delightfully uncomplicated percussion. There’s a claustrophobia to the track as it gently swells and engulfs you into layers of sound, a delightful accompaniment to the unsure lyrics, “look for meaning, get distracted, buy a picture frame, leave it empty”.
Modern Retelling is a hugely impressive return, a collection that showcases both the ambition and the quality of Participant’s songwriting, creating a record that feels out of step with the current musical climate, and all the more charming and timeless for it.
Modern Retelling is out October 30th. Click HERE for more information on Participant.