For a seventeen year old with barely a year of career experience, Declan McKenna is releasing music that is often more mature than his adult contemporaries. After winning Glastonbury’s 2015 Emerging Artist Festival and immediately setting off a record label bidding war, McKenna dropped his debut EP Liar on Friday. The release features his two previously self-released singles “Paracetamol” and the chart climbing “Brazil”. It also feature two new songs, “Bethlehem” and “Howl”. On Liar, McKenna shows a maturity, both musically and lyrically, that is reminiscent of fellow prodigies such as Lorde and Conor Oberst. McKenna has the ability to write songs that stick after one listen, while also proving himself to be an intelligent lyricist.
Musically, simplicity is key on Liar. McKenna records and programs almost all of the instruments heard on the EP, and the final product is a subdued, ambient mood. Liar is filled with soft, swaying guitars and modest keyboard drones. While McKenna is still building his own personal sound- he does tend to wear his influences on his sleeve- all the tracks on Liar are so simply built that it’s hard not to have each song memorized after a few listens. Especially as a budding multi-instrumentalist, this seemingly genius song formula shows incredible potential for whatever McKenna releases next. The instrumentation on Liar is also subtle enough to allow for McKenna’s lyrics, arguably his greatest strength, to shine through.
McKenna tackles topics on Liar that many pop/rock artists are too nervous to approach. “Brazil”, McKenna’s breakout single that currently sits at #16 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart, is a scathing commentary on the controversy surrounding FIFA and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Coincidentally, the song gained popularity just as the FBI began indicting FIFA associates for corruption. McKenna was invited to interview with Sky News to discuss the corruption and greed within the organization, as if the then-sixteen year old boy with one song to his name had a greater understanding of the issue than seasoned political commentators.
“Bethlehem” takes on the broader theme of religion’s role on war and hate. McKenna puts himself in the shoes of those who use their religion to infringe on the rights of others, proclaiming in the song’s chorus: “I’m in Bethlehem/I’ve got to see in heaven/And though I’m heaven sent/I can do as I want”.
“Paracetamol” is the most hard hitting track on the EP. This track, named after a common painkiller, has McKenna tackling the issue of LGBT+ representation in the media, specifically the representation of trans youth. McKenna wrote in a blog post for The Guardian that the song was inspired by the story of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender girl that committed suicide after undergoing “conversion” therapy. Her suicide note, posted to her now-defunct Tumblr page, went viral a few days after her death. To match the song’s message, McKenna reached out to Matt Lambert, a filmmaker who focuses on youth sexuality and identity, to create a music video that featured youth LGBT+ actors. McKenna wrote, “Many films about trans people have this weird suggestion that they don’t have the chance to be happy. We wanted to make something positive, with people who are actively affected by the topics in the video.”
“Howl” is a perfect way to wrap the EP. After spending the previous three songs discussing current events and social issues that are often neglected in mainstream media coverage (let alone pop radio airplay), McKenna uses “Howl” to proclaim his individuality. McKenna just wants to do his own thing, putting himself and his art first.
The more complex subjects touched upon on Liar aren’t issues that are necessarily ignored by McKenna’s generation. If anything, McKenna and his peers are probably the biggest activists for these issues thanks to their extensive social media influence. However, McKenna has not limited his thoughts and opinions to a Facebook timeline or Tumblr post. He has the rare ability to channel these important discussions into catchy songs that can hold their own in the often one-hit world of rock radio. Though McKenna has some growing to do, Liar is an exciting preview of someone who could end up as one of the most influential voices in music.
Declan McKenna is working on his debut album, estimated to be released early next year. He will be touring Europe and the US this summer. Check out Liar below!