A cacophonous soundtrack to grief, rage and subsequent acceptance
Ben Miles
10:41 26th March 2021

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Love and grief are intense emotions, and difficult ones to portray with any universal conciseness. But Irish poet, producer and songwriter David Balfe - otherwise known by his moniker, For Those I Love - suffers from no such issues of depiction. His eponymous debut album is a cacophonous soundtrack to grief, rage and subsequent acceptance, knitted together by a mixture of drill, house, techno and ardently pronounced poetry. 

For Those I Love was a project that started while Balfe was still working in a series of punk rock bands, the most successful of which was the raucous Burnt Out. After the suicide of his best friend and fellow bandmate, Paul Curran, in 2018, the music he was making became a way to sustain his own sense of self. Now, in 2021, Balfe’s music serves as a raw and uncompromising vehicle through which he charts his youth in Donaghmede and Coolock during the 2008 financial crash, the friends he made in order to survive it, and the positive role his family have played throughout. 

The identity of the album is clear and vibrant, with each recurring motif reworked into a variety of genres with startling ease. Opening track ‘I Have a Love’ sets the stall out early, signposting not only the frankness that defines the album but also Balfe’s characteristically Dublin delivery. The opening track is probably the best example of the fervent love Balfe holds for Curran as he paints the picture of their youth together, and in doing so stands up as the clearest symbol of his grief. 

Lines like: “And a year ago or so / I played this song for you on the car stereo in the night's breeze / This bit kicked in with its synths and its keys / And you smiled as ya sat next to me,” are so personal and real that one can’t help but share in the experience Balfe lays on for us, breaking down the barrier between artist and audience until both become one. 

Drill-esque track, ‘Top Scheme’, is the nearest Balfe comes to legitimately rapping on the album as he spits out a confused mix of rage and self-doubt, confronted by a class-divide that not even the love of those around him can surmount. Balfe’s sample of a man drunkenly preaching that 1979 was the year punk rock “died a fucking serious death” adds depth to the track, serving as both a symbol for both Balfe’s departure from the genre and the lack of resolve to resist the “fucked” world he paints. 

‘The Myth / I Don’t’ is Balfe at his lyrical peak, marrying brutal wit and ingenious wordplay to craft a track that delves deep into the heart of alcoholism and the depression that follows. “Red eyes / And red credit / Searching for ways to get out of this state on Reddit,” he grimly details, before admitting, “I have value / My mates and my Ma said it / But that Tuesday Morning counselling / Does break the bank.” The ability to incisively use the darkest of humour to throw light upon the grimmest of situations is one possessed by only the finest lyricists. In this sense, Balfe moves in the same space as artists such as Mike Skinner and Alex Turner. 

Musically, Balfe shows a similar accomplishment in his production, interweaving voice notes and video recordings of Curran throughout an LP that delves as much into sample-based house and rave-worthy techno as much as it does rap and hip hop. ‘The Shape of You,’ for example, makes use of an ethereal cut from Smokey Robinson’s ‘The Tracks of My Tears,’ which attracts a haunting gravitas to track. 

‘Birthday / The Pain', however, is the highest of many highpoints from the album, juxtaposing a glorious soulful sample alongside Balfe recounting the time a body was found on his road when he was young. It would be easy for a track such as this to jar, but with Balfe’s consistently acute delivery, the major key sample only serves to elevate his poignant lyricism. 

For Those I Love is an album designed for both the vastest of venues and most intimate of spaces. Balfe’s inspiring testament to Curran, his friends and his family is the execution of a true artistic vision because it comes from a place of such clear authenticity. As a result, it becomes more than just a gloriously category-free album that refuses to settle in any one place. In our current cultural and political moment, it reminds us in the clearest possible fashion of the validity of masculine emotional openness. Balfe’s wounded outpourings are all too seldom heard from male voices across society, and for that reason, this is an album that will rightly be remembered for years to come.

For Those I Love is out now via September Recordings.

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Photo: Press