Galway’s Maija Sofia shared her aspirations for True Love recently on social media; her second studio album was going to turn her into the Lana Del Rey of the rural west of Ireland. No better place to start, then, than a collection of songs written in a haunted, 300-year-old former yacht club on the Cork coastline, where Sofia lived alone for three months having left her home during a period of personal upheaval.
Four years ago, her Choice Award-nominated debut album Bath Time justly positioned her as one of Ireland’s most promising new songwriters, righting the wrongs of historical ostracization through accounts of marginalised women. The heroines of Bath Time existed so tangibly within its walls that songs often felt like spectral holograms, from the mangled melancholy of ‘The Glitter’ about Dominican novelist Jean Rhys’s struggles in London, to the despondently factual flames that engulfed the story of Bridget Cleary’s burning, once accused by her husband of being a changeling.
Many of the best moments of True Love carry the same well-worn, low-lit empathy. ‘Telling the Bees’ takes its muse from Rita of Cascia – the patron saint of impossible causes, abused wives and heartbroken women – and plays on an old Irish folk custom about the need to warn a beekeeper’s bees of tragedy lest they die. Its baroque tenderness waltzes between Kate Bush’s Never For Ever and Hounds of Love, a worthy protégé, the dreaming almost visible. Elsewhere it’s bruising and to-the-title romance, centring the women behind celebrated saints and surrealists.
But within Sofia’s archival comforts, True Love is both more focused and more emotional, funnier and more resolute than its predecessor. ‘Saint Sebastian’ allows its mad and muddled sensibilities to go namechecked: “Life’s so boring when you’re sober and when you’re not in love” may as well be the motto. The confessional lament of naïve love in bittersweet ballad ‘Weird Knight’ is her best songwriting to date, agonisingly fond, continued in ‘Saint Aquinas’ with a coming-of-age existentialism and killer line: “What if all your big plans are just three small plans in a trench coat?” Within its moseying temporality, it’s hard to imagine the age-old format of guitar and voice done better than this.
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