Conor O’Brien’s Villagers’ live set-up has been transformed with the release of his brilliant electronic-based fourth album The Art of Pretending to Swim. At the recent Other Voices weekender in Ballina there were added synths and effects, with beautifully-crafted songs as always at the core.
UK indie-dance act Friendly Fires returned to live duties out of the blue this year after a six-year break — with some hyper funked-up performances at the summer festivals, including Electric Picnic. They’re promising a new album, but till then they’ve still got a lot of catching up dancing to do.
Singer-songwriter Gwenno has been hand-picked by fellow Welsh natives the Manic Street Preachers as support on their 2019 tour, so that’ a hell of a bump. Her dream-pop grooves are given an added cloak of mystery as she’s the only modern pop musician to sing in the Cornish language.
A regular act on the Irish festival scene for years, Booka Brass are a joyous collective from Dublin who put a New Orleans brass band spin on classic pop and R&B hits, as well as more traditional numbers. Watch out for Crazy In Love, Survivor and their own cuts from their album Chilled Milk.
Dundalk singer-songwriter may trade on plaintive acoustic guitar and an affected folk voice, but there’s a lot more poetic heft to his songs than the likes of Picture This and Gavin James. He worked on a huge YouTube following before old school media caught up, and his EPs Strip Me Bare Vol 1 and 2 have been well received.
Experimental folk artist Junior Brother gets a lot out of a battered acoustic guitar, a tambourine and a broad Kerry accent. Songs like Hungover At Mass and You Make a Fine Picture feel at once ancient but also informed by modern themes and observations.
Electro-pop star Roisin Murphy has had a brilliantly restless 2018, releasing a series of house 12-inches with producers Maurice Fulton and DJ Koze. Along with choice cuts from Take Me Up To Monto and the inevitable encore of Sing It Back — along with her impeccable style and presentation — this’ll be a blockbuster headliner.
Canadian indie-rock cult hero Mac DeMarco is often thought of as a stoned goof in light of his erratic stage persona, but the manic humour can often hide one of modern music’s most incisive songwriters. Then again, one of him most infamous moves was doing a cover of U2’s Beautiful Day with a drumstick up his arse, so who knows.
Edinburgh trio Young Fathers’ mix of hip-hop, noise, electronica and soul has been thrilling and confounding critics ever since their Mercury-winning debut album Dead in 2014. But live they’re an even more visceral prospect,
Kevin Smith aka Dublin rapper Kojaque has one of the best Irish releases of the year in DELI DAYDREAMS, a mini-album based around the life of a deli counter worker, that one constant of mundane Irish life that transcends all cultural divides. Like fellow Dublin MC Mango, he has a gift for elevating the the everyday into engaging surrealism.
THE BLACK MADONNA
Chicago house queen The Black Madonna has been one of the most celebrated figures in dance music in recent years, with a genuine love and  for the culture. From classic acid house to soul and funk, it’s a non-stop party.
Chicago disco-house DJ Honey Dijon absolutely does not tolerate dancing around. She’s on the record saying: “I’m a party DJ, I wanna see some titties jiggling, some asses wiggling and some dicks bouncing.” Her 2018 Boiler Room set is one of the greatest on the site.